8 Movies To Watch If You Like The Black Phone (2022)
8 Movies Like The Black Phone That You Should Watch: Directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson, along with co-writer C. Robert Cargill, The Black Phone (2022) is based on the 2004 short story of the same name by Joe Hill. In this supernatural mystery, the clocks are turned back to 1978 where the suburbs of Denver are being haunted by a serial child abductor nicknamed “The Grabber”. There are a lot of rumors about The Grabber’s powers. But we don’t get to see him up close until Finney (Mason Thames) gets kidnapped and thrown into his soundproof basement by him; which is equipped with a bed, a toilet, and the titular phone. While The Grabber himself comes off as a regular maniac with a penchant for hurting kids, the basement turns out to be the home of the spirits of the kids he has killed. And it’s those spirits and Finney’s sister Gwen’s (Madeleine McGraw) psychic powers that help Finney plot his escape.
On the surface, The Black Phone follows the structure of abduction movies where the villain is tormenting his victim until he gives up. The victim is trying his best to escape. And the general populace, especially the victim’s loved ones, are trying to find him before the clock runs out. But the most interesting (and frankly, surprising) aspect of the film is how it shifts the focus from the mystery angle to the plight of The Grabber’s victims who’ve passed away. In doing so, it shines a light on society’s tendency of becoming used to a recurring crime and reducing the victims to a statistic. Now, if you are looking for movies that are either equipped with plot devices similar to that of The Black Phone’s or have twists like the Scott Derrickson directorial or they simply revolve around the “stranger danger” phenomenon; well, here are some recommendations.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Written and directed by the one and only Wes Craven, this horror classic takes place in 1981 and opens with Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) waking up from a nightmare in which she is attacked by Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). The kicker obviously is that Freddy’s attacks in the nightmare have real-life implications. These nightmares aren’t limited to Tina as her friend Nancy also says that a disfigured man wearing a glove armed with knives has shown up in her dreams. Things come to a boil when Tina is killed by Freddy in her nightmare and hence in real life too. But since there’s no evidence left by Freddy, Tina’s boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri) is assumed to be the killer. This starts a two-way manhunt for Rod and Freddy Krueger.
Do I really need to spell it out? Freddy Krueger haunts people through their nightmares. In The Black Phone, Gwen gets clues about The Grabber’s whereabouts through her dreams. Yes, Derrickson puts a positive spin on dreams but there’s the throughline. Apart from that, there’s the mystery around Krueger, which is explicitly spelled out by the end of the movie while Derrickson and Cargill keep The Grabber’s origins very ambiguous. Krueger used to be an insane child murderer and was burned alive by the victims’ parents; which then turned him into a vengeful ghost. But we never get to know why The Grabber does what he does (which, to be clear, isn’t the point of the film). Maybe, like Krueger, he simply hates kids and is punishing them for existing.
2. It (1990)
Is it a movie? Is it a two-part miniseries? For the sake of this list, let’s call it a very long film (because that’s how I watched it), directed and co-written by Tommy Lee Wallace, along with co-writer Lawrence D. Cohen. Even though the man needs no introduction, it is based on the 1986 novel of the same name written by Stephen King. The story is set in 1960 in Derry, Maine where a young kid named Georgie (Tony Dakota) comes across a clown in the sewers while chasing his paper boat. He says that his name is Pennywise and that he has his boat. When Georgie tries to get it, Pennywise bites his arm off and leaves him to bleed to death. Later, Georgie’s brother Bill (Jonathan Brandis) leads a group of misfits to hunt this clown down.
I am not the biggest fan of It as so many others clearly are. I really love Tim Curry’s performance in it. Well, to be honest, every single performance in Curry’s career is a ten out of ten. But here he is on some other plane as he shows Pennywise taking so much delight in tearing these kids apart. The connection between It and The Black Phone, apart from the supernatural aspect, is that it highlights how adults think that they know everything. And if a kid reveals something that questions their worldview, they are probably going to ignore it. This is a common trait you can find in “stranger danger” films from the ‘80s. However, The Black Phone does put a positive spin on it as it shows the police officers taking Gwen’s dreams into consideration and acting on them.
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3. Sinister (2012)
If we are talking about a Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill movie that stars Ethan Hawke, I have to mention the other Derrickson and Cargill film that also stars Hawke. It follows true crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) who moves into a home in Pennsylvania with his wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance), their son Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario), and daughter Ashley (Clare Foley). But little does his wife, son or daughter know that Ellison has purposefully chosen this house because it’s where the Stevenson family was murdered by hanging. And he intends to write his next book on that case and regain his lost glory. Soon after that, he realizes he has bitten off more than he can chew. Because the snuff films he finds in his attic happen to be documentations of real killings conducted by a mysterious entity.
That’s right, The Black Phone puts yet another positive spin on a defining aspect of a movie featured in this list. In Sinister, the Bughuul/Mr. Boogie (Nick King) essentially possesses the youngest kid of the family, uses them to kill the entire family, then slowly feeds on their soul until they die and join him in the spiritual realm. There’s a very convoluted explanation for how the Bughuul marks a family and then executes them. But that’s not the point. The point is that the Bughuul’s victims become his allies and do his bidding, while The Grabber’s victims not only torment him but also try to help his latest victim to get away from him. So, the more Bughuul kills, the stronger he becomes. However, the more The Grabber kills, knowingly or unknowingly, he weakens himself as the heinousness of his existence weighs heavy on him.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Dan Trachtenberg is currently in the news for his latest outing, Prey (2022). And if you loved it, you should definitely check out his feature film directorial debut. It follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who is “rescued” by Howard (John Goodman) after she gets into a car crash. She wakes up in his bunker. Howard says he brought him there because there has been some kind of a biological attack that will kill anyone if they go outside and breathe in the unfiltered air. The bunker is also home to Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who says that he voluntarily came in there to say after helping Howard build it and witnessing the attack. But with every passing minute, it becomes apparent that Howard isn’t as hospitable as he appears to be and has some very disturbing issues.
The primary reason why I’ve added this film to this list is that it’s about escaping a bunker in the basement with the tools available at the victim’s disposal. In The Black Phone, Finney does have some supernatural help. But they only point out the stuff that is already in front of him. Ultimately, it’s up to him to figure it all out. Which is essentially what Michelle and Emmett do. They build a hazmat suit from the items available in the bunker. Yes, it is a completely different thing that it is ultimately rendered useless. She does make a Molotov cocktail from the materials available in Howard’s truck that turns out to be quite productive against an alien craft. Additionally, the glaring similarity between The Grabber and Howard is that they both think they are benevolent gods to their victims.
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5. Split (2016)
Since we are talking about Trachtenberg, it looks like both of his movies (10 Cloverfield Lane and Prey) were supposed to be “stealth sequels”. As in, viewers would go into it assuming it’s a standalone film with no ties to any franchise. And while watching it, they are going to realize that it’s in fact a part of a larger narrative. But both times, that aspect was exposed by the marketing. M. Night Shyamalan not only pulled off this stunt with Split but also garnered critical and commercial success. Coming to the story, the film follows Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) who are suddenly kidnapped by Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). The kicker is that there are 23 distinct personalities in Kevin and they are waiting for the arrival of The Beast who intends to eat these girls.
The Grabber’s interchangeable masks are indicative of his ever-altering mood swings and fractured mindset and Kevin’s multiple identities are an exaggerated version of what’s known as dissociative identity disorder (DID). That said, unlike in The Black Phone, Shyamalan really tries his best to ground the supernatural aspects of the film. But, let’s be honest, there’s nothing realistic about Kevin’s abilities. The dude climbs walls and is impervious to shotgun rounds. In addition to that, the similarities between The Black Phone and Split extend to the kidnapping of young children and killing them in a staggered fashion. There’s also a common theme of “playing the game” where the girls have to reason with whichever character takes over Kevin’s body. And finally, there’s the final victim, in this case Casey, who needs to use everything she has learned in her captivity to thwart her kidnapper and escape.
6. Summer of ‘84
First and foremost, let me clear something up. This is technically not a horror movie. It’s a mystery or a thriller or a mixture of both. Yes, there are some horror elements but not throughout. It is probably because of the mismarketing of this film, directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell and written by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith, that it continues to be so underrated. And that’s a word I don’t use very lightly. Anyway, the film takes place in Cape May, Oregon where a total of thirteen teenage boys have disappeared. Out of a group of four teenagers, Davey (Graham Verchere) thinks that their neighbor Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), who also happens to be a very popular police officer, is the abductor. Obviously, no one believes him because Mackey is the ideal neighbor but the truth is more harrowing than even Davey can imagine.
The primary reason why you should watch Summer of 84 if you liked The Black Phone is that it rips away the rose-tinted glasses with which we look at the past. Unlike a lot of nostalgia-bait films and TV shows, it gives us a very harsh look at the duality of living in an American suburb during the ‘80s. It portrays the realistic repercussions of what will happen if it’s revealed that someone who has killed 13 kids is living right in front of you. Also, it has an ending that’s so mean-spirited that it’ll make the great Wes Craven proud. I am not kidding when I say that I actually hated the film during my first viewing because of that ending. But, upon a rewatch, I understood that the ending’s attempt at de-romanticizing not only movies set in the ‘80s, but also stories that like to tie everything in a neat bow.
7. Doctor Sleep (2019)
Hot take: Doctor Sleep is better than The Shining (1980) simply because, unlike Stanley Kubrick, Mike Flanagan didn’t spend the entirety of the production mentally torturing his cast in order to extract an “authentic” performance. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the film. It takes place several decades after the events of The Overlook Hotel and shows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) spending his days getting drunk to suppress his shining. He works as a hospice orderly and uses his shining to comfort dying patients; thereby garnering the titular nickname. Elsewhere, a cult of psychics led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), is going around killing children who possess the shining because it immortalizes them. This is sensed by Dan and a girl named Abra (Kyleigh Curran). And they team up to stop Rose before she kills any more children.
Creepy child killer who wears a hat? Check. The psychic connection between the killer and the victims? Check. Kids using their psychic powers to beat the villain? Check. And in addition to all these similarities with The Black Phone, Doctor Sleep is simply a damn good movie. The cinematography by Michael Fimognari, the editing by Flanagan himself, the music by the Newton Brothers, the production design, the practical effects, and the visual effects come together so beautifully. In a horrifying manner, of course. There’s no reason for them to be mutually exclusive. Horror and beauty can go hand in hand. Flanagan’s entire filmography is proof of that. Also, I don’t think Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Alex Essoe, and Henry Jackson Thomas Jr. got the applause they deserved for their performances in this movie. Their work in it is truly fantastic and, at the cost of sounding repetitive, the movie should receive more love.
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8. Malignant (2021)
Directed by James Wan, written by Akela Cooper, and based on a story by Wan, Cooper, and Ingrid Bisu, this bonkers-as-hell film follows Madison Lake Mitchell/Emily May (Annabelle Wallis), a pregnant woman living in Seattle with her abusive husband, Derek (Jake Abel). Well, to be clear, it opens in 1993, when a violent patient named Gabriel (Ray Chase/Marina Mazepa) is killing the hospital staff. He also happens to possess the ability to control electricity and broadcast his thoughts through the speakers. The doctors determine that he’s a lost cause and apparently kill him by saying that they need to “cut out cancer”. So, what’s the connection between Emily and Gabriel? To put it lightly, Gabriel is the sentient tumor in Emily’s body and he takes over Emily’s body when she goes to sleep and goes around killing and torturing people. Yes, a sentient tumor.
To be honest, one of the two reasons why I’ve included Malignant in a list about The Black Phone is because both of them share a twist about a person finding out that their sibling is the killer. Scott Derrickson does a good job with his reveal. But James Wan’s reveal is so hilarious (it’s set to the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind?) that there’s simply no competition. The other reason is that, before the third act kicks in, both the movies reveal that the killer’s house (which has been visited by the police on multiple occasions) is where they are keeping their respective victims. Apart from these two similarities, there’s nothing common between the two films. However, they are reason enough for you to check out Malignant. Don’t read the reviews written by people who don’t know how to have fun. Just watch it with an open mind (pun totally intended).