Directed by John Lee Hancock — Screenplay by John Lee Hancock.
At the time of writing, we are now in October, which means that, for a lot of people, it’s time to focus on horror and Halloween. Streamers such as Netflix have to cater to that crowd, and one of the ways that they are doing that this year is by releasing yet another Stephen King adaptation. Netflix has actually been a pretty decent home for these adaptations, as it has previously released such King adaptations as In The Tall Grass, 1922, and Gerald’s Game, with the last one being easily the best of the Netflix-King films. Like In the Tall Grass and 1922, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is based on one of King’s novellas, and, like those other two films, while there are things I really like about the film, I think there are a couple of things about it that make it difficult to recommend to general horror fans.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone follows a young man named Craig (played by Jaeden Martell), who befriends a stern elderly man (Mr. Harrigan, played by Donald Sutherland) and works for him by reading books aloud to him. As their friendship grows, Craig teaches Mr. Harrigan how to use a smartphone. Not long thereafter, Craig finds Mr. Harrigan dead. Deeply saddened, Craig decides to leave Mr. Harrigan’s phone in Mr. Harrigan’s casket, so he can still text and call him to talk to him. During one of these calls, Craig talks about his bully. When the bully is later found dead, Craig starts to suspect that Mr. Harrigan is now an avenging spirit.
A couple of years ago, the Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side filmmaker John Lee Hancock took to Netflix to release The Highwaymen, his lawmen-focused telling of the Bonnie and Clyde legend, and it was a case where the premise and the cast were better than the overall execution. It pains me to say that even though I did enjoy watching Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, I have similar problems with the execution of Hancock’s latest film. Though not quite a dud, the payoff in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is nonexistent.
For that reason, I can’t, in good faith, really recommend this film, even though I actually did enjoy parts of it and thought the ending was a fairly natural endpoint for the story. The thing is, though, Hancock fails to really deliver on the horror aspect of the story. It feels bland because it doesn’t really take the story in exciting directions (I really feel like it was a missed opportunity to not go full Death Note or, at least, Final Destination), except at one point in the film. However, the thing is that the film reneges on that character’s turn immediately, which kind of just kneecaps the film. The acting isn’t the problem. I think Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland are both really strong here, as their conversations are the best thing about the entire film. But, on the other hand, Mr. Harrigan’s monologue about the dangers of a smartphone felt a bit too didactic or on the nose.
It is a pretty great Stephen King premise, but in failing to add anything meaningful to it, or in failing to add some bold horror developments to it, I think writer-director John Lee Hancock fails the story. There should’ve been more to it after Harrigan’s demise. However, I think it kind of works as this coming-of-age story with a slight supernatural potential, but since it doesn’t really have a payoff, it’s tough to recommend.
5.5 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.