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Ethan Hawke Terrifies in the Trailer for ‘The Black Phone’

Ethan Hawke as 'The Grabber' in Universal Pictures' 'The Black Phone.'
Ethan Hawke as ‘The Grabber’ in Universal Pictures’ ‘The Black Phone.’

“Are those black balloons in there?”

“Would you like to see a magic trick?”

No! No, no, no! Come on kid, you never say ‘yes’ to a stranger wielding promises. Especially if the man is a pale-faced, top-hatted Ethan Hawke and the seriously spooky theme from Alan J. Pakula’s Klute is playing in the background.

In the new trailer for The Black Phone, Mason Thames plays Finney Shaw, a kid nabbed by Hawke’s character, known only as ‘The Grabber.’ Shaw is attempting to escape the Grabber’s basement with the spirited help of the room’s former occupants, communicating from the other side through a disconnected black phone. 

Though it’s so common to the genre that we barely notice its ubiquity, there’s something so instinctually creepy about the mask. Its combination of frozen emotion and hidden deflection drives a spike into our collective cerebellums and floods us with adrenaline. The pock-marked, faded yellow-green, horn-rimmed Joker-grinned Grabber mask in The Black Phone ranks right up there for terror. Hawke doubles down on this creep with an insistent, wheedling rasp behind the psycho smile.

The twist on this typical tale of a twisted man is that despite being incarcerated in a madman’s basement, Shaw has help from the ghosts of the Grabber’s victims. In another seat-flinching trailer moment, the boy answers the phone, unaware of a bloody peer next to him.

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The narrative unfolds through Finney’s perspective — his family and personal life before he becomes the kidnapper’s latest quarry. In between dodging bullies, Finney has to walk on eggshells at home to avoid abuse from an alcoholic father. The only solace he finds is from a spitfire sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who has no qualms about cussing out cops or smashing a rock over a bully’s head.

Though Hawke is typically known for playing thoughtful characters, he’s going all in for this reunion with director Scott Derrickson after 2012’s truly scary, Sinister.

Not only does under three minutes of Black Phone threaten to scare the wits out of folks, positive reviews are rolling in from festivals like Fantastic Fest and Beyond Fest. The movie won’t be coming to theaters until Feb. 4, but October’s dark days marked a perfect time for Universal Pictures to release this first clip to haunt your dreams.

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