Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: When Mr Harrigan dies the teen who befriended and did odd jobs for him puts his smart phone in his pocket before burial. And when the lonely youth leaves his dead friend a message, he is shocked to get a return text.
Review: As a Stephen King fan, I’m a bit ashamed to admit my reading has fallen way behind but then again, it’s not easy keeping up with the Terminator of horror writing, is it?
That said, even though I never read Mr. Harrigan’s Phone I was aware of the short story. A simple premise (albeit one tailor-made for King’s twisted mind) where a young boy is hired to read to a solitary old man and as the years go by their relationship blossoms into a true friendship. As the boy Craig (Jaeden Martell) grows into a teen, he buys an iPhone for Mr Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) so not only can they keep in touch but also so the older man can connect the world at large. Ultimately Mr Harrigan passes away and Craig slips his phone into the casket, a move he’ll grow to regret as it seems the other side has great service and an unlimited data package worth dying for!
I’ll start by saying this wasn’t the movie I expected it to be but the performances kept me engaged. The first half focuses on the relationship between Craig and Mr Harrigan. While Colin O’Brien does a fine job of portraying the younger version of Craig, it’s It, Chapters 1 and 2 alum Jaeden Martell as the teenaged version who grounds the character and whose engaging interactions with cinema icon Donald Sutherland as Mr Harrigan makes the first half of this story work as well as it does.
Director John Lee Hancock utilises a slow burn style here that works well with this particular type of story where you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. But his lack of a horror background in movies show as the tone of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is more darkly dramatic than actually chilling. I couldn’t help compare this against this year’s The Black Phone, which coincidentally was based off a short story by King’s son Joe Hill and also has themes of ghosts reaching out via a phone to the living. But while that movie rewards your patience with actually chilling moments, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone takes too long to get there which ultimately drains all that great tension out of its story, leaving you disappointed with the end result.
The movie also lost me a bit when they tried to stick in a cumbersome message about how devices and the internet will be used in the future (which is right now of course) to spread fake news and put newspapers out of business. It all comes out of left field and grinds the usually heartfelt moments between the lead characters to a grating halt.
The best aspect of the entire story though is in the themes of faith, power and vengeance, or at least one man’s idea of justice. Craig’s phone calls to the other side may be having real life effects on the people around him, although to be fair Craig is a good person and he consistently tries to do the right thing, which is to say justice via his connection with the afterlife. I wish more of the movie focused on these themes and didn’t meander so much, which would of made for a much more impactful final act.
Another positive outcome of having watched this movie is I now have a renewed interest in reading the book. Not because the movie was that good mind you, but because I think this was one of those cases where a lot must’ve been left out. Sometimes what works on the page doesn’t translate easily to the screen (or maybe they should’ve just hired Mike Flanagan to direct instead, boom!).
In any case Mr. Harrigan’s Phone on Netflix, while not wasted viewing, is sadly an exercise in wasted potential.
Score: 5 out of 10
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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