“The Black Phone,” the 2021 horror/thriller, is directed by Scott Derrickson and based on a short story by Joe Hill. Derrickson says that he took instances from his life, molded them, filtered them, and made this short story into a full-fledged feature film. There is an uncanny resemblance between the writing of Joe Hill and his father, Stephan King. In a lot of Stephan King’s stories, you often saw flawed human behavior, you saw abuse, you saw innocence and the lack of it, and most importantly, you were left with a bittersweet nostalgia that took you back to your old days.
Though “The Black Phone” is supposed to be a horror/thriller, it is more about the developments that take place within than the ones taking place in the outer world. Derrickson grew up in Denver, Colorado, and he witnessed abuse and violence everywhere. Most of the children he knew had to face a lot of bullying. Those who were spared from it somehow, had to face the wrath of an abusive parent back home. It is important to warn everybody that before watching “The Black Phone,” you should be aware that horror and suspense are subordinate elements in this film. The film is about standing for another, always having the back of your loved ones no matter what, and about a different kind of maturity that doesn’t wait for age to increase but takes its full shape and form through the experiences one has in life.
Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
It was 1978, and a baseball match was taking place. Finney Blake had managed to get two strikes when Bruce Yamada hit him for a home run. Bruce was kind enough to come to Finney after the match and tell him that he had almost got him. Finney wasn’t used to that kindness. He had always been bullied by his peers and had gotten used to that behavior somewhat. Things were not great at home either. His father was an alcoholic who often beat him and his sister, Gwen. Somewhere, his father wasn’t able to deal with the loss of his wife. Though “The Black Phone” does not reveal anything about his past, you do make the speculation that things would have gone haywire after his wife departed. She used to see things that weren’t real, and that drove her crazy. He often used to get angry at Gwen when she told him that she also saw dreams that sometimes turned real. He told Gwen that her dreams were just dreams and nothing else. Though Finney didn’t have many friends, Robin was a colleague, who not only considered him his good friend but also respected the fact that Finney never resorted to violence. He saved him multiple times from bullies, but at the same time told him that one day he would have to stand for himself.
Children were disappearing from the neighborhood Finney stayed in, and not even the authorities had a clue about what was happening. One day after the disappearance of Bruce Yamada, Gwen was called by her principal as Detective Wright, and Detective Miller had come to ask her some questions. They were on the lookout for a guy suspected to be behind these kidnappings, whom the people had nicknamed “The Grabber.” Gwen had told her friend, Amy Yamada, sister of Bruce, that she had seen in her dreams that Bruce was taken by a guy in a black van who happened to carry a lot of black balloons in it. The detectives had actually found two black balloons at the scene, and that piece of information wasn’t revealed by them. The detectives suspected that Gwen knew something more, as it was not believable whatever she was telling them.
The next morning, Gwen’s dad whipped her mercilessly. He was beating her as the police had come to the office and asked about Gwen. Finney stood there in horror and saw his beloved sister being beaten by his father. He was petrified, yet there was a fire raging inside him. He wanted to go ahead and stop his father, but he didn’t have the courage. The next day, Robin Arellano went missing, and Finney was distraught, as he was his friend. On Fridays, Gwen used to do a sleepover at her friends and Finney, while departing, always used to tell her to have fun, and that he would take care of their father. But that day he didn’t reach home to look after his father. He was taken by the Grabber. A shattered Gwen, after hearing the news of her brother’s disappearance, runs back to her home and starts praying to her God, hoping that some miracle would happen and he would come back safely.
‘The Black Phone’ Ending Explained: Does Finney Come Back? Is The Grabber Dead Or Alive?
Finney was taken to a basement by the Grabber. There was just a mattress and a landline phone, with its wire cutoff. The Grabber suddenly heard a phone ringing somewhere and told Finney that he would come back with a soda for him after he attended the call. The phone in the basement started ringing too, and Finney didn’t understand how it was happening. The Grabber had told him that the phone hadn’t worked since his childhood. But that was not true. The Grabber was in denial. He, too, heard the phone ringing; he just didn’t want to accept it. Finney heard the phone ringing a couple of times more, but nobody spoke from the other end. The basement was soundproof, and Finney had a feeling that he wouldn’t be able to escape from there ever. But then something inexplicable happened. A boy spoke from the other end. He didn’t remember his name, but Finney recognized him. It was Bruce Yamada. He told Finney that it rang when he and the other kids were there too, but none of them could hear anything. He tells him that there was a dirt section on the other side of the hallway, beneath the floor itself. He asked him to dig it up. Finney started digging as much as he could. He covered the section with a carpet and flushed the dirt that he took out into the pot.
The next time the Grabber came, he brought some breakfast. But surprisingly, when he went, he left the door open. Finney saw that and was about to escape when the phone rang again. This time it was Billy Showalter, who also couldn’t remember his name. Finney recognized him as he said that he used to deliver newspapers. Billy told him to not go out of the room as it was a trap. The Grabber was waiting upstairs for him to escape. Billy says that in all probability he would be caught by the Grabber who would then start beating him with a belt. Billy told him on the next call that there was a cable that was under one of the walls that he had torn loose during his stay in the basement. Finney finds that cable, and tries to escape from the window using it. But even after multiple attempts, he is unable to do it. The next call he got was from Griffin Staggs, who told him that just because he was not taking the bait of the Grabber, it was making him restless. The Grabber used to call this game “Naughty Boy,” and he had kept the door unlatched for a reason. He would win the game by beating the kids who tried to escape and then move on to the next level. Finney was not escaping, and Billy says that he would have to let Grabber beat him once, to buy some more time before he kills him. Billy also told him that on his door, he had put a lock that he used for his bike. He had carved out the lock combination on the walls and asked Finney to check for it. Finney gets it and goes upstairs. He escapes, but The Grabber catches him just in time and brings him back.
The next call was from Vance Hopper, a person from whom Finney was once very scared. Vance was an outlaw who was known for his rugged behavior. He told Finney that there was an outlet through which he could get into the storeroom on the other side, via a freezer. Finney tries that too, but to no avail. He is scared, frustrated, and slowly losing hope that he will ever be able to escape. The last call he gets is from Robin, his friend. Finney came to know that each and every child he had talked to, was already dead. The phone acted as a portal that connected the people in this realm to those who had departed. The boys had done their best but were not able to escape. Robin tells Finney that he had to escape, if not for himself, then for all those people who had met their fateful end in that very basement. He tells him to fill the telephone receiver with dirt and practice a hook, which he could use on the Grabber when the time comes.
Meanwhile, Gwen had gotten a dream where she had seen a house with a number, 7741. She knew that something was happening there. She informs the authorities about the same. Finney was waiting for The Grabber to come, but his brother, Max, showed up instead. Max was a cocaine addict and a conspiracy theorist. The police had once come to the house, but after listening to all his theories, they thought of him as just another addict who had lost his mind and was talking nonsense. The Grabber came from behind holding an ax and killed his own brother. He came after Finney, who ran to the other side of the room. He came chasing him, but tripped on a wire and fell inside the hole that Finney had dug in the floor. Finney had created a trap using all the things that he had found through the callers. Next, he hits The Grabber with the phone receiver and snaps his neck using the phone wire. Once again, the phone rings, but this time Finney knew it was not for him. The dead kids had called to curse The Grabber and tell him that they had finally gotten their revenge. Finney used the meatloaves he had got from the freezer to distract The Grabber’s dog. He came out of the house and found his sister sitting on the other side of the road, surrounded by police vans. The police came to know that there were two houses; in one, The Grabber used to torment the children, and in the other, he used to bury their dead bodies. Gwen reunited with her brother and gave him a warm and tight hug. Finally, Finney’s nightmare came to an end, and with it, the case of the Grabber was also solved, which gave respite to each and every resident of North Denver.
A person who goes through a trauma or a period in his life where he is subjected to constant abuse, is generally aware of the repercussions caused by it, which we commonly refer to as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). But a lot of times, there is no awareness of the psychic wounds that are inflicted on the person, as he or she believes it to be expected and accepted behavior. In most of these cases, the effects of those scars surface in a bizarre manner, like they did with The Grabber. Why The Grabber kidnapped the kids and tortured them is left to our perception, but there are subtle hints provided by the director, Scott Derrickson, that point towards a basic fact: he, too, would have been a victim of domestic abuse. We make that speculation because of a game that he loved playing: “The Naughty Boy.” It is possible that The Grabber’s father used some deterrent means and methods to make him obey his commands while he was growing up. Violence became so ingrained in his subconscious that he eventually found it amusing and exciting, like a goose and chase game. He was disappointed that Finney never came out, and that he didn’t get a chance to thrash him. Maybe he had this image of his father, buried in his subconscious, where he waited with a belt, and he was replicating the whole experience now in his adult life. Only one thing had changed. The kids were on the receiving end now, and he enjoyed the position of authority. He became what he was once scared of. As Derrickson says, getting brutally beaten was the common law of the land when he was growing up. The children had accepted it as normal behavior as everybody was going through the same thing. They saw their wounds but didn’t realize that there was something wrong that was happening to them. And to deal with trauma in a correct manner, it is important to be consciously aware that what is happening to you is not justified. Finney, too, was a different man when he came out of the basement of The Grabber. There was a shift in sensibilities and in his core, which was pretty evident from his expressions. There are two plausible routes that the character of Finney could take henceforth: either he recognizes the oppression and the abusive behavior and raises his voice against it, or he becomes a part of the clan, where he also starts bullying and resorting to violence at his own convenience. There was a kind of fearlessness that was evident on Finney’s face when he came out. He was not the same old, timid kid who once watched his sister getting beaten by his father in horror. He was not the same guy who fumbled whenever his crush initiated a conversation. He was a confident young man now, and only time will tell if that confidence makes him scourge and oppress the weak, like the others around him, or if it gives him a voice that calls out the socially accepted behavior of giving corporal punishment to kids.
“The Black Phone” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Scott Derrickson.