I first learned of Madeleine McGraw when she lent her voice to Bonnie in “Toy Story 4,” and was elated to discover she was also the voice of young Katie Mitchell in “The Mitchells vs. The Machines.” McGraw has actually played a lot of “younger version” characters, including young Hope Pym in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and young Amara in “Pacific Rim: Uprising.” However, one of McGraw’s breakthrough roles was as Amber Barnes in the series “Outcast,” a young girl who has been surrounded by the threats and presence of possessions since birth, as her father has experienced possession for most of his life. Horror is at the foundation of McGraw’s career, which led to her being cast in films like “The Harbinger,” where she plays the incredibly creepy Rosalie Snyder, who may or may not be an omen of death.
But it’s her turn as Gwen Shaw in “The Black Phone” that is the best showcase of her acting prowess. Whether it’s her calling cops “dumb f****** fart knockers” to their faces, beating up bullies twice her size, or hilariously praying to god she might not believe in, Gwen steals every moment she’s on screen. “The Black Phone” is a terrifying film about a child murderer who dons an unsettling devil mask, but the hardest scene to watch in the film is when Gwen endures the physical abuse of her father. The commitment made by Madeleine McGraw in this moment is enough to make you feel like your soul has left your body. The way she commands the scene through tears and screams of defiance was some of the strongest acting of 2022. I have no doubt that Madeleine McGraw has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of other kid actors-turned-adult superstars like Kirsten Dunst.