The horror doesn’t start with the villain in “The Black Phone.” It just ends there.

A smart blend of horror and thriller, this movie continues to draw horror aficionados to theaters.  In the capable hands of director Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”) this is a singular hit in the midst of franchise sequels.   

And what an interesting role for Ethan Hawke, whose face is covered by a creepy mask throughout most of this disturbing tale.

The setting is the 1970s in a Colorado town where a kidnapper called The Grabber is abducting boys, one by one.

That story is on the periphery of the lives of Finney (Mason Thames) and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw.) They already live in a world of horror.

It’s no coincidence their hard-drinking, abusive father (Jeremy Davies) bears an eerie resemblance to Charles Manson, whom older viewers will recognize (along with a tertiary character undoubtedly based on real-life Iowa paper carrier Johnny Gosch, who vanished in 1982.)

The siblings’ dad is a brute. We see his “punishment” first-hand in a cringe-worthy sequence.

Gwen has a gift … or, possibly, a curse. She has visions about occurrences that have yet to happen.

When Finney disappears, Gwen does all she can to “see” where he is. In the meantime, Finney finds himself trapped in a soundproof basement with a mattress and a black phone on the wall.

To tell you more would be unfair.

Always, I have maintained that horror movies get short shrift during awards season. That’s especially unreasonable this year, because this movie has some of the best performances of 2022. The young actors are marvelous, and it’s no surprise that Hawke is, too.

The character development is believable and engaging, with authentic-sounding dialogue that delivers just the right three words at the finale.

A terrific horror movie is calling you.

3 ½ stars

Rated: R for violence, bloody images, foul language and drug abuse.

Running time: 102 minutes.

At Cinemark, Davenport; Regal, Moline; and Palms 10, Muscatine

Watch the trailer here.