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The Black Phone is not a true story, but it is inspired by real events

The following article contains discussion of themes, including murder, that some readers may find upsetting.

The Black Phone has landed on Netflix in the UK and Ireland if you’re craving some dark chills this bank holiday weekend.

Written and directed by Scott Derrickson, the horror film reunited the filmmaker with Ethan Hawke for the first time since 2012’s Sinister. Hawke plays The Grabber, a child killer who kidnaps his next victim, Finney (Mason Thames), only for Finney to receive unexpected help from The Grabber’s previous victims.

Given the supernatural element of The Black Phone, it won’t be surprising to know that it’s not based on a true story. However, Derrickson revealed that he took inspiration from his own past.

“I grew up in an area in north Denver that was pretty violent, a lot of bullying, a lot of fighting, a lot of kids bleeding all the time. It was also right after Ted Bundy came to Colorado , killing people, and the Manson murders had just happened,” he told news.com.au.

Ethan Hawke as The Grabber, Mason Thames as Finney Shaw, The Black TelephoneEthan Hawke as The Grabber, Mason Thames as Finney Shaw, The Black Telephone

Universal images

“When I was eight years old, my friend next door came to my door and said, ‘Someone murdered my mother.’ My friend next door’s mother was murdered. And there was a lot of domestic violence, even in my own home and among many of these children that I knew.

“Parents punished children much more aggressively, and so it was a very violent and scary place to grow up in a lot of ways. And I tried to bring that environment realistically into the film.”

This appears in Mason’s story before he is taken away by The Grabber as he, along with his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), lives with an abusive father who is an alcoholic. In fact, for much of The Black Phone’s first act, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into the wrong movie.

Derrickson takes his time showing the horrors of The Grabber with furtive glances and stories of missing children in the neighborhood. The focus is on Mason and Gwen as they have to deal with their father and bullies at school.

The Grabber becomes more important once he kidnaps Mason, with the main story of The Black Phone coming from Joe Hill’s short story of the same name, published as part of his 20th Century Ghosts collection in 2004.

Ethan Hawke as The Grabber, Mason Thames as Finney Shaw, The Black TelephoneEthan Hawke as The Grabber, Mason Thames as Finney Shaw, The Black Telephone

Universal images

Derrickson had already optioned the story, but it wasn’t until after leaving Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in early 2020 that he decided to direct it.

And when he came to mix his past with Hill’s short story, it turned out that writing the film with C Robert Cargill became a way for the filmmaker to come to terms with his past.

“I felt like I had a lot of work to do to come to terms with certain aspects of my past and the impact it had on my life and who I was becoming as a person. It was gratifying to have a place to rest,” he explained.

“A lot of the kids in the film are directly based on kids I knew.”

It’s a formula that has worked as The Black Phone has grossed over $160 million worldwide, leading to the announcement of a sequel in October 2023.

The sequel hits theaters next June, so we’ll have to wait and see what real-life inspiration Derrickson takes for the next film.

The Black Phone is now available on Netflix in the UK and Ireland. Black Phone 2 hits theaters on June 27, 2025.

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