The Black Phone Tells a Beautiful Story About Overcoming Abuse

The Black Phone is one of my favorite horror films of the year. It features likable characters, a gripping story, and some really effective scares, and in my book, that’s an almost unbeatable combination. But as great as those elements are, I don’t think they’re the best thing about the movie. Every time I rewatch it, I’m struck more and more by something deeper, something I didn’t highlight in my initial review of the film, and that deeper element has since become my favorite thing about it.

See, The Black Phone doesn’t just tell an entertaining story; it also has something to say. At its core, it’s not really about masked abductors, chilling ghosts, or supernatural phones. Rather, it’s about the horrors of abuse, and it simply uses its supernatural thrills as a metaphor for the real-life terrors way too many people experience every day. It makes for a very poignant story that’s both timely and timeless, so let’s take a deep dive into this fantastic film and see just what it has to say about the real-world horrors that lie behind its supernatural storyline.

Finney’s Abuse

Gwen resting her head on Finney's shoulder

The Black Phone follows a teenager named Finney who lives in a town that’s being terrorized by a deranged child abductor and murder known as the Grabber, and before long, Finney himself becomes the Grabber’s next victim. But before that, Finney already experiences multiple forms of abuse in his day-to-day life. For example, he’s bullied by some kids at school, and he has to rely on his friend Robin to keep the bullies at bay.

Robin is the toughest kid around, so Finney’s tormentors are afraid of him. However, he realizes that he can’t be Finney’s bodyguard forever, so at one point in the story, he tells his friend, “You’re going to have to stand up for yourself one of these days.” As you might be able to guess, that day comes much sooner than anybody expected, and when it does, Robin’s words prove to be right on the money. He eventually falls victim to the Grabber, and Finney finds himself without a protector. His bullies have free rein to do whatever they want to him, so they easily get their hands on him and beat him up.

On top of that, Finney’s father also abuses him and his sister Gwen, and one of the most harrowing scenes in the entire movie involves his father savagely beating Gwen with a belt. One morning, Finney wakes up to the sound of his sister screaming, and he sees his father punishing her for a very minor quasi-transgression. It’s one of the most emotionally graphic depictions of child abuse I’ve ever seen on screen, so even though it’s not bloody or gory in any way, it’s still arguably the hardest scene to watch in the entire film.

The Basic Message

Finney talking on the black phone

With all that, The Black Phone sets up a clear parallel between Finney’s life before being abducted and his experiences with the Grabber. The Grabber essentially represents all the abuse he and his sister experience at the hands of their father and the school bullies, so when Finney finally takes Robin’s advice to heart and learns to fight back, he’s symbolically fighting back against all the abuse he’s endured throughout his life.

And in case there’s any doubt about that, three scenes toward the end of the movie confirm it for us. First, before Finney finally kills the Grabber and escapes his clutches, he talks to the ghost of his dead friend Robin on the titular black phone, and Robin reiterates the advice he gave his buddy earlier in the film. He reminds Finney that he’s going to have to stick up for himself someday, and he says, “Someday is today…Today’s the day you stop taking sh*t from anybody.”

Then, with a little help from his spectral friend, Finney finally confronts the Grabber and kills him, and that makes the film’s point clear as day. Robin’s advice connects the Grabber to all the abuse Finney’s experienced throughout his life, so by sticking up for himself against his abductor and would-be murderer, Finney is symbolically standing up to everybody else who’s abused him too.

On top of that, after Finney escapes the Grabber’s clutches, his father apologizes to him and his sister for the way he’s treated them, and when Finney goes back to school, he’s clearly much more confident than he’s ever been before. Now, at first glance, those two scenes may seem like little more than a nice epilogue, but if you look below the surface, you’ll find that they’re actually really important.

It’s no coincidence that they correspond to the two sources of abuse in Finney’s life. They represent him overcoming the abuse he’s received from both his father and his school bullies, so once again, the message of The Black Phone is crystal clear. It’s about a kid who finally learns to stand up for himself and “stop taking sh*t from anybody,” and it uses its supernatural horror as a metaphor for the more realistic abuse Finney experiences in his everyday life.

The Deeper Message

A ghost watches Finney talk on the black phone

But that’s not all. The Black Phone isn’t just about one person learning to stand up to his abusers. It’s also about a whole bunch of people coming together to support him and help him fight back, and the movie incorporates this plot thread in a really clever way. Throughout Finney’s captivity, he talks to the ghosts of the Grabber’s previous victims via the titular black phone, and every time he does, they give him some advice on how to escape.

Unfortunately, though, none of their tips work, so it looks like Finney is out of luck. But when he talks to his friend Robin and takes the kid’s advice to heart, everything changes. Like I said before, he finally confronts the Grabber and kills him, and he does so by using the advice all the other ghosts gave him.

For instance, one of them tells him to remove a floor tile to dig his way out, and at the end of the film, he tricks the Grabber into falling into the hole left by that tile. Similarly, another ghost helps him figure out the combination for the padlock on the door, and he uses that information to get out of the house after finally killing the Grabber.

I won’t bore you with the details of exactly how all the ghosts help Finney, but if you go back and watch The Black Phone carefully, it’s not hard to see for yourself. Instead, I want to focus on what this all means. It lets us know that the film doesn’t espouse a sort of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” philosophy. It’s not just telling abuse victims that they need to “man up” and face their abusers.

Rather, it’s saying that combating abuse is a collective effort. All of us, even if we’ve never been abused ourselves, need to join the fight and help people who are currently experiencing it. There are many different ways we can do that (like donating money to organizations that help victims of various kinds of abuse or helping people we know escape abusive situations), but whatever we choose to do, the important thing is that we do something.

Yes, abuse victims like Finney need to learn to stick up for themselves, but they shouldn’t have to do it alone. All of us need to stand by them, support them, and give them the help they need to escape their abusive situations and get back on their feet, and few movies depict that important truth better than The Black Phone.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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