Adapted from a short story by Stephen King's son Joe Hill, The Black Phone is undoubtedly a chilling fear trip, yet the movie refuses to answer one central mystery – why The Grabber is never revealed in The Black Phone. The Black Phone follows the horrifying plight of Finney (Mason Thames) as he tries to escape the gnarled clutches of The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), with help from The Grabber's past victims calling Finney through a black phone in his basement cell. The Black Phone is a grim story about comradery in the face of evil, but the mystery around the antagonist elevates this film above others in the genre.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
Reminiscent of Hill's father's work, the central characters, except for The Grabber himself, are all children, which is especially poignant given the antagonist. For the first act of the film The Grabber is built into more of an idea, like the boogeyman. The kid's all whisper his name in hushed tones of terror, afraid that any of them could be next. They stroll past the missing children's posters of The Grabber's victims on their walk to school every day, and the only story on the news is about another taken child. All of this leads to the larger picture of The Black Phone and why the significant portion of the film's narrative follows children and not the adults in charge of capturing a crazed serial killer.
Related: The Black Phone: Finney's Last Line Is Deeper Than You Realize
The Black Phone gives power to its victims and works to peel the power away from the villain. By the end of the first act, everything is revealed about Finney and his sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), from their abusive home to Finney's less-than-ideal school life, but by the end of the film, nothing is revealed about The Grabber. His name, his motives, and even his face, are deliberately kept opaque. Not revealing The Grabber's name, history or appearance helps The Black Phone deliver a satirical message on the media's sensationalism of these horrid crimes, as well as society's obsession with wanting to understand who they are and why someone would do something so evil. Not giving any motive invalidates any reason The Grabber could have, albeit it wouldn't matter considering the crimes, but that's the exact commentary The Black Phone expresses. This explains why The Grabber is never revealed in The Black Phone.
The Black Phone Is Smart To Keep Its Focus On The Victims
After being kidnapped, Finn gets locked in a barren, dusty basement with only a mattress and a detached, black phone beside him. Using this black phone, past victims of The Grabber can call Finney and communicate from the other side, and through the film, they give him all the tools he needs to escape. Every time they call, Finney takes their advice but then talks to them and most importantly, asks them their name. The Black Phone directly contrasts the humanity with Finney talking to the long-silenced boys, and the media who mentions them only and briefly, as another missing child. In the world of the adults, victims of The Grabber are detached as just a warning to them and their children instead of the harsh reality that the lost child was someone's son, a life taken too soon.
Being so much more than a tense thriller, The Black Phone ending does well in reminding that the horror genre is always capable of more. The surface exterior of a gripping story, with a poignant and powerful message at its core, puts this film in contention with some of the best as a well-acted, conscientious horror thriller. The idea is that true power comes from facing adversity head-on, that pure evil can be defeated by comradery, and that evil should be just that, evil, and nothing more. Leaving questions unanswered isn't a flaw in The Black Phone, but its beating heart and the draw, the power, should not be in the villain, but in celebrating the triumph of the hero. As such, the mystery around why The Grabber is never revealed in The Black Phone actually belies the true meaning of the story.