The Black Phone is an edge of your seat psychological thriller

The Black Phone is the movie adaptation of Joe Hill’s short story from ’20th Century Ghosts. Photo: google

Joe Hill is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the novels “The Fireman,” “NOS4A2,” “Horns,” and “Heart-Shaped Box;” “Strange Weather,” a collection of novellas; and the acclaimed story collections “Full Throttle” and “20th Century Ghosts.” The Black Phone is a short story in his “20th Century Ghosts” collection and has been adapted into a major motion picture from Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions starring Ethan Hawke.

The Black Phone – Jack Finney is thirteen, alone, and in desperate trouble. For two years now, someone has been stalking the boys of Galesberg, stealing them away, never to be seen again. And now, Finney finds himself in danger of joining them: locked in a psychopath’s basement, a place stained with the blood of half a dozen murdered children. With him in his subterranean cell is an antique phone, long since disconnected but it rings at night anyway, with calls from the killer’s previous victims. And they are dead set on making sure that what happened to them does not happen to Finney. The movie is 1 hr. 42 min. long, is rated R and classified as horror/thriller.

I have not read many of Joe Hill’s works, just ‘NOS4A2,’ but I have seen the series NOS4A2 and the movie Horns, both are excellent. After watching The Black Phone movie on opening weekend I was curious how it compares to the original short story on “20th Century Ghosts.” I checked the book out of the library because it seemed quicker than going out to buy it or ordering it on amazon. I read it in one seating, it is, after all, a short story, no more than 30 pages long.

The movie is short, less than two hours long, and that is the way I like it. It does not go into detail with an origin story, the reason why the ‘Grabber’ is the creepy killer that he is and that is quite alright with me. It is mislabeled as a horror movie because it is not scary at all but it is a psychological suspense/thriller. There are plenty of jump scares and suspenseful moments and yes, it is hard not to compare it to IT with the balloons, the mostly young cast, the retro setting, and the yellow raincoat the sister wears. While it may have a predictable ending, it does have a false ending, where just when you think it is over… surprises you. Yes, it is unnerving to see children in peril but in the end, Finney takes a schoolmate’s advice “Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself.” All’s well that ends well. It gets high marks for Ethan Hawke’s performance and how about those creepy masks. I came to the conclusion that the reason the father is an abusive alcoholic is because he is still grieving his wife, who committed suicide because of the visions she was having, just like the daughter and he was scared that she would end up the same way. It is creepy, haunting, and suspenseful but it also focuses on the familial bonds between brother and sister and in the end the father is repentant. Did I need to know why the Grabber is a demented killer? Probably not. I would definitely watch it again. Need a movie recommendation for the long Fourth of July weekend? Check out The Black Phone, it is well worth a trip to the movie theater. 

The short story focuses on when Finney gests kidnapped and his trying to escape. The Grabber is obese and does not wear masks. He kills his brother just when we think he is going to save Finney, just like in the movie. It does not mention a sister or father for Finney or even anything to do with school, but both the movie and the story have the same redemptive ending. I would say that the movie is faithful to the short story version when it comes to Finney’s harrowing experience with the Grabber and that is all that matters. 

Photo: Sandra Cruz

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