The Black Phone Parent Guide
This film works by letting audiences stew in their own fear.
Parent Movie Review
Finney Shaw’s (Mason Thames) early adolescence is unusually difficult. When he’s not at home, trying to manage his alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies) and protect his younger sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), he’s trying to avoid getting jumped by bullies at school. And things are going to get worse…
A psychotic child murderer is stalking Finney’s small Colorado suburb. Known as “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke), he’s on the prowl again, and his newest victim is Finney. The terrified boy finds himself in a concrete basement, decorated with a toilet, a mattress, and a mysterious disconnected black phone in the wall – a phone which occasionally rings, giving Finney strange contact with the voices of other children killed by The Grabber. While Finney tries to make the best of their memories and advice to escape, his sister Gwen has been having vivid dreams, which she hopes will lead police to her brother. But no matter what supernatural aid they receive, time is running out, and The Grabber has his own plans for Finney.
From a parental perspective, this movie immediately raises plenty of red flags, with a murderous child predator at the head of the list. The Grabber’s plans are frequently insinuated and implied, but his actual acts of violence are not seen. There’s some dialogue and bodies are seen in the aftermath but the abductions aren’t clearly seen. That’s partly why the film works: What you imagine might happen is far scarier than anything the filmmakers could get away with putting on screen, and they know it, so they just let you stew in your own fear. It’s quite effective. That said, there’s still plenty of bloody violence, and a good deal of profanity, which will make most parents think twice before letting their teens watch this.
For adult audiences with a tolerance for profanity and violence, The Black Phone is a capable horror thriller. It isn’t perfect, it doesn’t reinvent the genre, and it does have its flaws. Those flaws are fairly inconsequential to your average viewer’s enjoyment of the film, which is still tense, unsettling, and at times, downright uncomfortable. Due both to my job and my personal interest in horror movies, I’m pretty hard to scare, so when I say this film actually made me hold my breath at some points, you should understand that’s a rare occurrence. Sure, it’s a little predictable at points, but it still manages to maintain tension, which is even more impressive. This film may not be a game changer, but it’s darn good at the game. Besides which, it’s got some Pink Floyd in the soundtrack, and that’s almost a surefire way to make sure I go home happy.Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Jeremy Davies. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release June 24, 2022. Updated December 27, 2023
The Black Phone
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Black Phone rated R? The Black Phone is rated R by the MPAA for violence, bloody images, language and some drug use.
Violence: On several occasions, people are severely beaten. A child is beaten with a belt. A child is struck with a rock in a fight with other children. Dead children with obvious injuries are seen. A character is struck in the head with an axe. A person’s ankle is broken in a trap. A character is strangled with a cord.
Sexual Content: There are several uses of insulting sexual terms.
Profanity: There are 30 uses of sexual expletives, 13 uses of scatological curses, and occasional uses of mild curses and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: One adult character is depicted as an alcoholic and is frequently seen drinking. Another character is seen using cocaine. Both of these are negative depictions and have consequences for those characters.
Page last updated December 27, 2023
The Black Phone Parents' Guide
Child abductions were more common in the 1970s and 80s. What has changed about how society protects children between then and now? What are some notable abduction cases that brought the issue to public attention? How did violent offenders take advantage of a more relaxed approach to child safety?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
This film is based on a short story by Joe Hill which appears in his collection 20th Century Ghosts. Other novels by Hill include Horns and Nos4A2. Hill’s father, Stephen King, has also written more than a few horror stories. If you’re a fan of short fiction, try compilations like Different Seasons, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and Skeleton Crew. His longer works include It, The Dead Zone, The Dark Half, and Pet Sematary.