When it comes to horror fiction, Stephen King stands tall as one of the most prolific storytellers of a generation. His body of work is probably large enough to fill all of Todash Space! The legacy of the man is untouchable… the adaptations of his work though? Well, that’s another story.
Don’t get us wrong, there are definitely moments when studios faithfully bring his vision to glorious life. Films like 2017’s “It”, and Mike Flanagan’s cinematic adaptation of the novels “Doctor Sleep” and “1922” were great! They truly captured the author’s wicked imagination and character voices. That being said, there are some pretty terrible ones of late. “Pet Sematary” and “Into the Tall Grass” were dull and uninspired. One particular film though, to this day has us rolling on the ground with laughter, instead of hiding under our blankets: “Cell”. Phone calls that make people zombies?! Really?
Well, Halloween season is upon us and Netflix has brought us yet another film adaptation of Stephen King’s stories. Will “Mr Harrigan’s Phone” have you chucking your devices away in fear? Is this call worth picking up? Let’s find out!
So the plot of the film is a fairly straightforward one. A rich billionaire in Maine, Mr Harrigan takes an interest in a young boy named Craig when he hears the lad reading in church one day. He pays the boy to read to him due to his failing eyesight and they become close friends over the years. Before Harrigan passes away, Craig gives the old man an iPhone as a token of their friendship. Little does Craig know, Harrigan has no intention of staying silent, especially after his body was buried with his phone. As spooky incidents start happening in Craig’s life, he must now contend with the spirit of an old friend. One who is only ever a phone call away.
Look, look, we know the premise of a haunted smartphone probably has most of you rolling your eyes all the way to the back of your skull. We wanted to give this film a chance and to be honest, there’s some potential here for some real campy fun. Perhaps, writer and director John Lee Hancock could find a fresh angle to explore with this narrative. Unfortunately, the film’s execution further exacerbates its lacklustre premise by taking itself way, way too seriously. It certainly doesn’t help that when Craig flatly delivers corny platitudes about teenage ennui, it’s done through disembodied narration as the film shows time-skip montages. And again, as we’ve mentioned in our review of “To All The Boys: Always And Forever”, you can’t just shove a bunch of montages in a film and call it character development!
The high school drama and Craig’s domestic life seem like half-hearted attempts on the part of the film to inject some relational stakes into our main character’s journey but all it does is pad out the runtime. It hits all the obligatory markers of a troubled teen’s day-to-day but with no real bite or conviction. This film does not need to be an hour and forty minutes long! The film could have merely focused on the relationship between Craig and Mr Harrington, with perhaps one strong supplementary sub-plot to keep the film from being bare.
Right, but here comes the question you’re probably dying to ask: does it at least have some good scares? No. Nada. Zilch.
Despite what the film marketing would have you think, “Mr Harrington’s Phone” isn’t really a horror film. The moments in which the ghost of Harrington strikes and delivers chilling justice to those who have scorned Craig aren’t very exciting. For the most part, they’re done off-screen with Craig either discovering it by text message or newspaper headlines or worse by voiceover montages. Seriously, we think we might have found a more egregious offender than Lara Jean’s last hurrah.
So all we’re left with here is a middling coming-of-age film about an angsty boy who has a murderous ghost friend that can help him out. If you’re looking for a much better version of this, you might as well go searching for “Jujutsu Kaisen 0”. If there’s a sliver of enjoyment that can be found in this film, it’s owed to its talented main cast of two. Jaeden Martell, who played Bill Denbrough in 2017’s “It”, does his best to give the character of Craig some depth as the young student processes both his grief, horror and ambition. Donald Sutherland, who plays President Snow in the “Hunger Games” franchise, unsurprisingly does a great job as the cunning but kind Mr Harrigan. A man who was in his prime a shark but is now finding new joy in connecting with Craig.
When it’s just Martell and Sutherland in the room, there’s great chemistry between the two actors bouncing off each other in an organic flow. That is until the conversation is brought to a stop when Sutherland is forced to mutter some ominous line about showing no mercy. Again, it is the writing and structure of the film that has failed its duo. Mr Harrigan certainly is an interesting character that could have benefited from some proper flashbacks, to truly sell us the notion of this gentle elderly man returning as a deathly spectre.
Netflix’s “Mr Harrigan’s Phone” is about as fun as taking a call from a telemarketer. When it’s not boring you to tears with its dry-wall-flavoured slice-of-life drama, it’s doing less than the bare minimum to thrill you with its lazy attempts at supernatural horror. Despite Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland’s valiant efforts to elevate this film, it proves too titanic a task for them. Say what you want about “Cell” but it was at least funny. Martell and Sutherland deserve better. Stephen King deserves better. You deserve better.
If you are looking for something truly bone-chilling to watch, you should check out Mike Flanagan’s “Midnight Mass” on Netflix. Now that’ll give you nightmares!
Netflix's "Mr Harrigan's Phone" Review
Netflix's "Mr Harrigan's Phone" is about as fun as taking a call from a telemarketer. When it's not boring you tears with its dry-wall flavoured slice of life drama, it's doing less than the bare minimum to thrill you with its lazy attempt at supernatural horror. Despite Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland's valiant efforts to elevate this film, it proves too titanic a task for them. Say what you want about "Cell" but it was at least funny.
- Netflix's "Mr Harrigan's Phone" Review