The Black Phone isn't a true story – but it is inspired by real-life events

ethan hawke as the grabber, mason thames as finney shaw, the black phone
The Black Phone is inspired by real-life eventsUniversal Pictures

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 fancy some dark chills this Bank Holiday weekend.

Written and directed by Scott Derrickson, the horror movie reteamed the filmmaker with Ethan Hawke for the first time since 2012's Sinister. Hawke stars as The Grabber, a child killer who kidnaps his next victim, Finney (Mason Thames), only for Finney to get some unexpected help from The Grabber's previous victims.

Given the supernatural element to The Black Phone, it won't be a surprise to know that it's not based on a true story. However, Derrickson revealed that he was inspired by his own past.

"I grew up in an area of north Denver that was pretty violent, a lot of bullying, a lot of fighting, a lot of kids were bleeding all the time. It was also right after Ted Bundy had come through Colorado, killing people. And the Manson murders had just happened," he told

ethan hawke as the grabber, mason thames as finney shaw, the black phone
Universal Pictures

"When I was eight years old, my friend next door came knocking at my front door and said, 'Somebody murdered my mum'. The mother of my friend next door was murdered. And there was a lot of domestic violence, even in my own home and in the homes of a lot of these kids that I knew.

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

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

Derrickson takes his time to show the horrors of The Grabber with snatched glances and tales of missing children in the neighbourhood. The focus is on Mason and Gwen as they have to deal with their father and bullies at school.

The Grabber becomes more prominent 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 phone
Universal Pictures

Derrickson had optioned the story before, but it wasn't until he exited Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in early 2020 that he decided to make it.

And when he came to blending his past with Hill's short story, it turned out that writing the movie with C Robert Cargill became an outlet for the filmmaker in coming to terms with his past.

"I felt that I had a lot of work at reckoning with aspects of my past and the impact it had on my life and who I was becoming as a person. It was rewarding to have a place to put back," he explained.

"A lot of the kids in the movie are based directly on kids that I knew."

It's a formula that worked as The Black Phone scared up more than $160 million worldwide, leading to a sequel being announced in October 2023.

The sequel will creep into cinemas next June, so we'll have to wait and see which true-life inspiration Derrickson takes for the next movie.

The Black Phone is available to watch now on Netflix in the UK and Ireland. The Black Phone 2 is released in cinemas on June 27, 2025.

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