Unpacking the Ending of the Terrifying “The Black Phone”

Universal Pictures / Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

In the new ’70s-set horror movie “The Black Phone,” a mysterious villain known only as “The Grabber” (Ethan Hawke) kidnaps children – specifically boys – and tortures them in his basement before ultimately killing them. He wears a series of terrifying masks, and his getaway car is a giant van purported to be for his magician act. At the scene of every kidnapping, the police find black balloons, which he keeps in the back of the car to subdue and hide his victims. The film’s conclusion is just as terrifying as the events that lead up to it, so let’s unpack how it all comes together – plus one big question you might still be asking after the credits roll.

When the Grabber kidnaps a local boy named Finney (Mason Thomas), things go quickly off the rails. The Grabber doesn’t realise that the black phone in the basement chamber where Finney is being held keeps ringing for the young boy, with mystical calls coming through from the villain’s previous victims. Each of them gives Finney advice on what to do to avoid the Grabber’s wrath, plus information about their own escape attempts.

The most useful call is from Finney’s friend Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora), who had gone missing earlier in the movie. Robin advises Finney to fill the phone up with dirt to make it heavy, then use it to knock out the Grabber. Robin also teaches him how to throw a punch – something Finney struggled with in the movie’s early scenes. Meanwhile, as Finney is detained, his younger sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) keeps getting clues about the kidnappings in her supernatural dreams. They’re all frustratingly disjointed and unhelpful until one of the boys visits her in her sleep and finally leads her to what she believes is the Grabber’s house. She calls the police and brings them to the location.

Back in the basement, Finney is waiting and prepared for the Grabber’s return, but when the door next opens, it’s not him that appears. Instead, the Grabber’s brother Max (James Ransone), has stumbled upon the missing child. Max is obsessed with the ongoing kidnappings in the Colorado town, but it takes him time to put together that they all circle his own brother’s house.

Yet before Max can help Finney escape, the Grabber appears and kills Max with an axe through the head. The Grabber then goes for Finney, but – employing the advice he got from the dead boys – Finney is able to trap him and kill him with the weighted phone. Finney finally escapes as it’s revealed that the house from Gwen’s dream is the vacant home where the Grabber buried the bodies of his victims. But just as Gwen gives up hope, she sees Finney coming out of the house across the street, where he was actually being held. They embrace, and when their father comes to the scene later on, he apologises for his own treatment of his children.

At the film’s end, we see Finney at school, the topic of gossip but with a newfound belief in himself. Still, “The Black Phone” leaves at least one major question unanswered: why was Finney the only one of the boys who could use the black phone to talk to the others? What’s the nature of his and his sister’s psychic powers?

Why Do Finney and Gwen Have Powers?

The simplest theory is that Finney and Gwen acquired their otherworldly powers from their mother. At the start of the movie, we find out that Gwen has prophetic dreams. She’s questioned by the police because she dreamed about the black balloons the Grabber was using. When her father finds out, he beats her, telling her she can’t believe her mystical dreams are real. It’s clear these dreams are something Gwen has been dealing with for a long time.

After Finney is kidnapped, we learn that their father thinks their mother was haunted by her own dreams, which led to her death by suicide. But Gwen says she loves her mom and everything about her – including her prophecies. She thinks her dreams come from Jesus, and she prays to him for guidance.

There’s no indication that Finney had any ties to the supernatural before he was taken, but it makes sense that the connection his mother and sister share would also spread to him, allowing him to contact the other victims and use their knowledge.

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