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Here's What Critics Are Saying About The Black Phone

Ethan Hawke's new horror flick, "The Black Phone," is set to hit theaters on June 24, and the critics have already reached a consensus. 

On the surface, Scott Derrickson's "The Black Phone" — which, as of this writing, has a 93% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes after 30 reviews — appears to be your typical '70s-era serial killer tale. The story is focused on Hawke's character, the Grabber, who abducts teenage boys and holds them captive before eventually taking their lives. One of the boys, Finney Shaw (Mason Thames), manages to communicate with some of the previous victims using a disconnected phone in the Grabber's basement, who attempt to give him clues about how to escape. When you start reading the critics' reviews of the film, however, it becomes apparent that "The Black Phone" isn't just some jump-scare maniac movie — it's a captivating character study propelled by Hawke and his young co-stars.

"'The Black Phone' carries you along on its own terms — that is, if you accept that it's less an ingenious freak-out of a thriller than a kind of stylized contraption," wrote Variety's Owen Gleiberman in his review. "It's a horror ride that holds you, and it should have no trouble carving out an audience."

Critics say The Black Phone is fueled by a great ensemble cast and talented child actors

When reading reviews about Scott Derrickson's adaptation, the main thing that critics have praised "The Black Phone" for is the film's ensemble cast and their performances. The young actors, in particular, portray characters who don't just deal with issues of abduction and serial killers but also domestic child abuse, bullying, and sibling bonding.

"Deliberately paced and restrained with its infrequent yet perfectly placed scares, 'The Black Phone' is primarily a character piece, and Derrickson has assembled an impressive ensemble of child performers," writes critic James Marsh for the South China Morning Post. "Thames carries the drama impeccably, while 11-year-old Madeleine McGraw is an absolute riot as Finney's younger sister Gwen, whose dreams may hold the answers to her brother's whereabouts," Marsh says. 

TheWrap's Simon Abrams writes: "Mostly thrills, thanks partly to its strong ensemble cast." Little White Lies reviewer Anton Bitel explained that "The Black Phone" does a great job of doing things outside the typical Hollywood horror box, writing, "Gwen is a great character, sweary and kickass where a typical cinematic medium would be fey and ethereal." 

Critic Marisa Mirabal describes Thames' Finney in her IndieWire review as perfectly vulnerable and exactly what a viewer would want from an "underdog protagonist," as she describes him. Talking about his on-screen sister, Mirabal says: "From the start, McGraw is a force to be reckoned with." However, at the end of the day, one performance stands out above the rest, and it comes from the movie's biggest star.

Ethan Hawke is delightfully terrifying

Whether audiences love or hate the film, critics say Ethan Hawke's performance as the sadistic Grabber character is undeniably impressive. Bloody Disgusting reviewer Meagan Navarro notes how Hawke's face is obscured for almost the entirety of "The Black Phone" by a Tom Savini-designed mask, making his already impressive acting skills even more incredible. 

"It adds to Hawke's utterly skin-crawling performance," Navarro writes in her review. "The actor exudes a perverse, murderous creepiness that makes his constant threat of danger palpable," she wrote, adding, "His portrayal goes far to convey the abject menace long before we see the aftermath of his depraved work." Even reviewers who aren't big fans of "The Black Phone" say that Hawke does a fantastic job of keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. Entertainment.ie's Brian Lloyd writes, "The Black Phone' might be a standard enough horror, but Hawke's performance is anything but and just about saves it from forgettable mediocrity." 

Over the years, Hawke has famously shied away from villainous roles — with "The Black Phone" and Marvel's "Moon Knight" series being the only bad guy projects he's ever done (via Variety). He told Total Film in December 2021 that one of his inspirations was Jack Nicholson and his performance in "The Shining" (via SyFy). Hawke said, "He taught the world to see his malevolent side, how to see his madness, and once you do that really well, audiences don't unsee it. It can be a cumbersome piece of baggage, and I think that's what I was scared of. But also, you know, there's something a little shamanistic about my profession and the idea of inviting all that darkness into my life just never really felt worth it before."