The Black Phone is currently one of the year’s most talked-about and best-rated horror films. The film has done so well worldwide because it isn’t just nostalgic for the sake of cashing in on a previous IP but also reminiscent of vintage photographs and the era of flared jeans, striped baby tees, and The Ramones.
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Adapted from Stephen King’s son Joe Hill’s short story of the same name, the film stars Ethan Hawke in a chilling role as a crazed masked villain known as “The Grabber.” He is a serial killer and pedophile sadist who kidnaps kids and locks them in a cramped basement with only a black phone in sight. The film also includes some outstanding performances from child actors Madeleine McGraw (Gwen) and Mason Thames (Finney).
The majority of the plot follows Finney trying to escape Grabber’s basement. But there’s a catch. Finney can’t dial out because there’s a black phone in the corner, and the line is cut. However, it continues to ring him in some way. What’s the deal with this phone? Here are some questions that remain unanswered.
The Black Phone: 7 Mysteries
1. What exactly is the black phone?
One nagging mystery that hangs over the entire movie is “What exactly is the black phone?” Yes, it is a phone, and it is black. But there’s clearly more to it than that. When Finney first finds himself locked in the Grabber’s basement, it appears to be just another random piece of junk lying around, no more useful than the mattress.
Finney is soon alone and startled by the phone’s jarring, old-fashioned ring. From here, the phone becomes a conduit through which Finney can communicate with the dead. But these aren’t just any souls. He can only communicate with the spirits of those who were taken from this world by the grimy hands of the Grabber.
There is a clear link between the location, the black phone, and the boys who were most likely killed in the same basement. The Grabber is also likely to have some sort of connection; as the film progresses, the Black Phone is what connects killer, prey, and a haunting past.
2. Does Finney have powers like his sister?
When her brother and best friend goes away, Gwen gets frantic to find him. Fortunately, Gwen has a rare skill that her father perceives as a curse – clairvoyance, which allows her to see visions of reality in her dreams; the children’s mother had a similar gift, which their father Terrence mostly blames for her downfall.
Possibly, just perhaps, the black phone isn’t all that special. Perhaps Finney has a similar ability to his sister, and it is presenting itself at a painful time in the form of this broken phone on the prison wall. Perhaps, like Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense,” “The Black Phone” is about a young boy who can communicate with the dead and assist them with unfinished business (stopping the Grabber). While the film never confirms nor rejects this scenario, the history of this family raises some questions.
3. What was Max doing not knowing?
The Grabber does not appear to beat or murder his victims, nor does he appear to be a sexual predator. He assures Finney that no harm will come to him. He even attempts to cheer up Finney with coke and feeds him on a daily basis. Sitting in the kitchen, masked and holding a belt, he gives his captives the impression that they might be able to flee. He calls the game “Naughty Boy,” and it’s difficult for any prisoner to resist the open door. Finney can’t wait any longer when the Grabber begins catching up on his z’s.
His escape attempt is ultimately foiled by the dog, and he is returned to his captivity. However, viewers grow to believe that Max (James Ransone), the Grabber’s hyperactive, crime-junkie brother, is living with him and is ignorant of his extracurricular activities. Where was Max when Finney went upstairs? How could he have missed the dog barking and the altercation in the living room and kitchen? The film’s ending provides some explanation, but that’s a lot of noise to miss.
4. How did The Grabber not spot signs of the escape?
Finney was told by a ghost to dig a hole in the earth to escape. He did it and buried his tracks at night, but his garments got muddy. Sure, he washed his hands in the toilet tank, but it’s strange. The Grabber didn’t notice that his clothing were soiled.
Meanwhile, another spirit assisted Finney in his attempt to flee through the window. It failed, causing the window’s metal grill to collapse to the floor. Despite this, the Grabber never spotted the window or the grill, which vanished from the film.
5. Why didn’t The Grabber punish Finney?
Finney sees that the Grabber slept off while waiting for him to play Naughty Boy – now is his opportunity. In an attempt to escape, he gets past the closed door and out into the open — but the barking dog wakes the Grabber, who re-captures him. But all the Grabber does is confine the poor youngster once more before returning upstairs. The punishment for playing Naughty Boy is intended to be severe, and Finney progressed faster than most. So, why are there no serious consequences?
At this point, the boy appears to be a liability, and the killer’s next natural action would be to end him. He, however, accomplishes none of these things. Indeed, he makes several references to how he regards Finney differently. Is he fond of the boy? Maybe he sees himself in Finney. Nobody knows.
6. Why Didn’t The Grabber Change the Lock?
The combination bike lock on the entrance door is the most prominent detail from his crimes that he left exposed. Finney obtains the combination with the help of a benevolent ghost and escapes temporarily before The Grabber catches up with him and detains him once more.
You’d think The Grabber would change the lock at that point. But why didn’t he do it? We discover that this lock belonged to one of the lads he had previously kidnapped and murdered. That boy was the one who told Finney about the combination. Did he use the same lock he used when the boy was imprisoned?
He must have, because the child was aware of the lock and had written the combination on the basement wall. So, why would the Grabber utilise a lock that one of his previous victims already knew the combination to and his current victim only recently discovered? Is it motivated by sentiment? It’s another aspect that adds to the mystery surrounding The Grabber and his nefarious tactics.
7. Who is The Grabber, and what’s his history?
The Grabber is the only thing more enigmatic than the powers underlying the black phone itself. This is a man who has no explanation for his acts, similar to Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the Joker. Does he kidnap children just because he can? Because he believes he can get away with it? Is he amused by the misery of others? Does he truly want to get caught?
All of these things seem feasible, as does a wholly different path. Did The Grabber experience trauma as a child, possibly even a kidnapping? Or perhaps he was relentlessly bullied, which is why he selects young victims who all appear to have anguish and violence within them. Naughty Boy may be a game where he vents his rage on his victims. There are numerous options here, but ultimately The Grabber is a mystery with little history to explain him. Perhaps this is what makes him so terrifying.
If you want to get answers to these mysteries, watch The Black Phone, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.