The Black Phone Explained (Every Question Answered)

The Black Phone is a 2021 horror thriller (based on the short story) directed by Scott Derrickson who gave us and even Doctor Strange. The plot centres around a young boy abducted by a sadistic serial killer. Locked in a soundproof basement, the boy uses an old mysterious rotary phone to talk to other victims and find an escape. While the concept is intriguing, the movie struggles to create a solid climax. Here’s the plot and ending of The Black Phone explained in an FAQ format; spoilers ahead.

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Did The Black Phone happen in real life?

No, the movie The Black Phone is not based on a real-life incident. That said, there have been several instances of serial killers in the past who abducted and killed kids. The movie references those events, which is also why the film is set in the 70s.

What was wrong with the Grabber? Why did he kidnap? Why does the Grabber kill?

The Grabber is a psychopath who had something against young boys. It’s possible he developed this hatred when the Grabber was young as he justifies to himself that he is punishing naughty kids. Perhaps he was abused for being naughty. In the film, we realize that the Grabber is initially nice to his victims, and then he purposely leaves the door unlocked. That’s the bait. If the kid opens the door and heads up, the Grabber sits on the chair, waiting to give a solid belt-whipping. Eventually, every kid he has kidnapped tries to get away and is killed.

Initially, with Finney, the Grabber doesn’t get any window of opportunity to beat him as Finney doesn’t break any house rules. The Grabber even claims he almost let him go, but we all know that is a lie. Eventually, Finney does try to escape, and the Grabber knocks him out and marks him for a painful death.

Why does the Grabber wear a mask?

The Grabber Ethan Hawke

The Grabber doesn’t wear a mask; he wears many, one depicting each of his moods. The masks are also scary, automatically instilling fear in the victims. It appears that he can’t stand the kids looking at his face because of some past trauma of name-calling. In a brief moment when we get to see the Grabber’s face while he fights Finney, we can see that he doesn’t have a deformed face. Yet he lets go of Finney to cover his face, and this leads to his death.

The Black Phone: What is Naughty Boy?

Naughty Boy is the game of death that the Grabber plays with his victims, where he places opportunities for his victims to escape. And when they do, he gives them a vicious pummeling within an inch of their life. By then, the boys get desperate to escape and keep getting caught until they are killed by the Grabber for being naughty. This process appears to be an excuse for the Grabber to justify his kills, that it was the boys’ fault. Had they behaved, they would have survived.

Why does the Grabber keep the black phone in the basement?

Just like the mask, the phone is there for psychological play. Every victim sees the phone and hopes for a way to use it to call the outside world and escape. But the phone is kept disconnected, creating a sense of hopelessness, resignation and defeat. The origins of the phone are not disclosed and we don’t know what the phone means to the Grabber from a metaphorical perspective. It could be guilt, but it’s hard to say what it is.

What happened to the mom (Gwen and Finney’s mother)?

The mom had special powers, just like her daughter Gwen. But it appears the mother’s powers manifested in a way she couldn’t control, eventually killing her. She saw and heard things and just became so convinced that her dreams meant something. And finally, they told her to do terrible things. And so she took her own life.

Gwen’s powers

Gwen’s dreams are events from the past and the present that border with the spiritual world. She views them like a movie, and no one from the vision interacts with her in a malicious manner. It appears that Gwen may not suffer the same fate as her mother as she is not being haunted by her dreams, not yet at least.

The Black Phone: What happened to the victims?

Who was the first victim?

The Grabber’s first victim was a kid named Billy Showalter, who used to deliver the daily newspaper. We don’t get to know much more about Billy other than this. It appears he was a harmless kid, and the Grabber snatched him, took him to the basement and killed him.

What happened to Bruce?

Bruce is kidnapped in The Black Phone’s opening scenes and killed by the Grabber off-screen. Bruce is a good sportsman and a friendly kid in general. A little too friendly, I suppose. The last we see him smiling and cycling and the back van waits for him in the distance.

What happened to Robin?

Robin was killed by the Grabber. While Robin was good enough to defend the bullies at school and protect Finny, he was no match for the Grabber, who is very built and would have come at him with knives.

Why did Robin walk to the van?

Robin didn’t walk towards the black van. He was walking on his regular daily path, and the Grabber was waiting for him that day. In that scene it only looks like Robin is walking up to the van but he isn’t.

What happened to Vance Hopper? 

Vance was kidnapped and killed by the Grabber the previous spring. Unlike Robin and Bruce, Vance was a bit of a ruffian and has been taken into custody multiple times for brutally hurting people and getting into all sorts of trouble.

How did Vance get kidnapped?

Once in the basement, even Vance didn’t stand a chance against the Grabber. All said and done, he was still a kid. A big one, but a kid nevertheless. The Grabber was a serial killer with blades and custom made mood masks; no comparison.

The Black Phone: Who is Max?

Max is the Grabber’s brother, and the two of them live in the same house. While the Grabber is shown to be an enraged psychopath, Max is just an ordinary guy living with the Grabber, utterly oblivious to the fact that his brother has a soundproof basement and kidnaps and kills kids there.

How did Max find out?

The real question is, “how did Max not know?” Max has been triangulating the killer’s possible location based on where the kids were last seen before they were abducted. Suddenly, he realizes his house is bang at the centre of his findings. So it finally dawns on him why he hears all those strange noises on many nights, and he goes down to take a look. Max finds Finney, and for this, he receives an axe to his head from the Grabber.

The Black Phone: Ending Explained: What happened to Finney?

The Black Phone Ending

With the help of all five previous dead victims of the Grabber via the haunted black phone, Finney uses his mint baseball-throwing arm to beat the Grabber and strangle and kill him. Each dead kid helps Finney set one trap for the Grabber, helping Finney ultimately defeat the Grabber:

  1. Bruce asks to dig the trench and cover it with the carpet.
  2. Billy asks to pull out the hidden cable, which Finney uses to trip the Grabber into the trench.
  3. Robin asks to fill the phone handle with mud and teaches him a couple of clobbering techniques.
  4. Griffin tells Finney the combination of the lock on the front door.
  5. Vance shows Gwen the location of the house where he is dead and buried.

The Black Phone: Gwen’s powers aren’t used well in the plot

While Gwen could have had a substantial role in the story, her character becomes ineffective towards the end. Her dreams could have tied into saving Finney directly. Yes, she helps discover the location where the dead victims are buried, but even if she hadn’t, Finney would have made it out and informed the authorities, and they would have gone across the road to find the dead bodies.

What were your thoughts on the plot and ending of The Black Phone? Do you have any questions or comments? Do put your thoughts in the section below.