Full disclosure: Joe Hill is one of my favorite writers, so the adaptation of his short story The Black Phone had the potential to either thrill me or greatly disappoint me. As an avid reader, there is little that upsets me more than a bad film adaptation of a good book.
Although I read a lot of griping about the film on social media (go figure), I thought it was great, and I encourage those of you who didn’t see it to give it a watch for Halloween. It’s super creepy, and the actors are uniformly fantastic, particularly child actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw, who play siblings Finney and Gwen. These two made me believe they were siblings, and they share some great scenes together.
Finney and Gwen don’t have a great home life, they lost their mother via suicide, and Dad isn’t coping well. He’s an alcoholic who is not above using corporal punishment when the kids misbehave. Finney and Gwen react in different ways to their home situation; Finney is meek, and often bullied at school, and Gwen is feisty and prone to colorful language.
Home life gets even worse when Finney disappears, a victim of a serial child kidnapper and murderer knows as The Grabber. He puts Finney in his basement, and his mentally unbalanced personality is immediately apparent as he alternately speaks with the sing-song cadence of a child and a harsh, angry voice. His mask is terrifying, by the way.
The Black Phone shows you the struggles of both siblings
Back at home, Gwen is desperate to find her brother, and her recently discovered psychic ability aids her, despite the fact that her father becomes enraged when she talks about it. It seems her mother had the gift as well, and Dad thinks that’s what led to her suicide.
As Gwen tries everything, including prayer, to save her brother, Finney is talking to The Grabber’s prior victims on an old black phone in the basement. And by “prior victims”, I mean deceased victims. The boys who were killed by the madman are calling Finney on the regular, giving him tips and ideas to help save his life.
Ethan Hawke is extremely menacing as the volatile Grabber, and Finney’s plight will keep you on the edge of your seat even as you are cheering for Gwen. Lower the lights, put your cell phone away, and allow yourself to enjoy a screening of The Black Phone.
The Black Phone is currently available to stream on Peacock.
Have you watched The Black Phone? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments section.