Review of the Netflix film Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, starring Donald Sutherland and Jaeden Martell, says that it is neither frightening nor particularly conscious of its own ridiculousness.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, a purported horror film, is neither campy nor particularly frightful, contrary to expectations raised by the names of its producers, Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum. You should know just how unusual it is by the fact that it features the most absurd concept of any movie Jaeden Martell, the star of The Book of Henry, one of the craziest movies of the decade, has ever been in, has ever been in.
Stephen King’s short story served as the inspiration for the movie Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, demonstrating once more that Hollywood will produce almost anything as long as it believes it would be commercially successful. At this point, you may propose (and ultimately win approval for) a thriller based on King’s shopping list.
This isn’t the first time Netflix has paid to make a movie based on his writing, but unlike the previous adaptations, Gerald’s Game, 1922, and In the Tall Grass, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone fails to see the humour in the tale of an elderly man who occasionally kills people while communicating with a young boy from beyond the grave.
Martell, who previously portrayed Bill Denbrough in the It films, plays the nondescript adolescent Craig, who is recruited by the vision-impaired wealthy Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) to read him books. There is nothing eerie about this. Three times a week, Craig visits Mr. Harrigan at his home in Maine and reads him classic novels like Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, and A Tale of Two Cities. This continues on for five years, with Mr. Harrigan sitting across from Craig and acting like a human podcast, when Craig gets the brilliant idea to get his employer a first-generation iPhone.
He explains to Mr. Harrigan that they might then talk whenever they wish to by doing this. Nobody, not Craig, nor his beloved father, and most definitely not Mr. Harrigan, recognises the oddness of this arrangement. Despite the fact that the elderly guy once questioned him about why he kept attending their visits despite the fact that he undoubtedly had better things to do, Craig responded with rubbish like feeling “a sense of power” that he doesn’t have outside of that room. That, however, still doesn’t explain why the entire community looks the other way when a reclusive old guy has a young child visit him many times a week “to read him stories.” Sure.
However, this isn’t even the strangest aspect of the film. That occurs when Mr. Harrigan passes away and Craig, overcome with grief, sneaks the man’s iPhone inside his coffin. He quickly comes to believe that Mr. Harrigan is messaging him from the bottom of the ocean. Even as time passes, Mr. Harrigan’s ghost won’t leave Craig alone. At this point, after giving the movie the benefit of the doubt, I concluded that it was most likely about sexual abuse. King frequently writes about childhood trauma, and Mr. Harrigan’s dubious corporate past might probably serve as a stand-in for the Catholic church. I actually considered The Black Phone, a horror movie from this year that is based on a short story by King’s son Joe Hill — did a far better job with similar core concepts.
But I was wrong. A childhood trauma story is not what Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is about. A movie about the negative effects of technology. It’s uninteresting, horribly unadventurous, and completely devoid of self-awareness. Even if Sam Raimi keeps to the subtext of technophobia, material like this will work well in his hands.
However, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, directed by John Lee Hancock, is such a waste of time that even Netflix didn’t think it deserved a prime Halloween release date. Hancock has made a wide range of films over his journeyman career, including wacky crime thrillers, Oscar-bait, and war dramas, but this is his first horror picture. When he grants himself the incredibly pretentious “written for the screen and directed by” credit at the conclusion of the film, it may be the clearest sign yet that he is truly treating it as some sort of serious cautionary tale about the fall of man. To put it in perspective, this is what guys like Andrew Dominik and Paul Thomas Anderson would do. And they most definitely aren’t doing Stephen King adaptations on the cheap, especially not the kind that makes you want to hang up after three minutes.