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Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
If you are one of Stephen King’s constant readers, then you’ll no doubt remember Mr. Harrigan’s Phone as a powerful entry from his 2020 novella collection, If It Bleeds, which is exceptionally good from top to bottom. King takes what appears to be a fairly mundane premise (even by supernatural standards) and weaves a story that’s equal parts tragic, scary, and heartbreaking.
This fall, Netflix released a film adaptation of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone starring Jaeden Martell (Knives Out) and the legendary Donald Sutherland as Mr. Harrigan.
Unfortunately, a great cast and fairly good script couldn’t save Mr. Harrigan’s Phone from being yet another Netflix adaptation you can easily skip.
Let’s dive into what did and didn’t work with this one. There will be some spoilers within this review, so read at your own risk if you’re planning to watch the movie later.
What It’s About
Netflix’s official description:
When Craig, a young boy living in a small town befriends Mr. Harrigan, an older, reclusive billionaire, the two begin to form an unlikely bond over their love of books and reading. But when Mr. Harrigan sadly passes away, Craig discovers that not everything is dead and gone and strangely finds himself able to communicate with his friend from the grave through the iPhone in this supernatural coming-of-age story that shows that certain connections are never lost.
That description is mostly accurate, although it heavily emphasizes the tale’s supernatural aspect over its human core — especially the bond between Craig and Mr. Harrigan, which takes up a majority of the film’s run time.
As expected, both Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland are fantastic in their respective roles. In addition to having great onscreen chemistry, they organically portray the bond that develops between their characters over time.
The story also provides a telling look smart phone technology during its emergence at the turn of the century. Mr. Harrigan fully admits to being enamored with his new device — even demonstrating the same addiction many of us dove into upon receiving our first smartphone. Through that lens, however, he recognizes that many of its advantages would soon morph into something much worse. It may seem like an easy observation to make now, but Harrigan presents it to us with a deft forensic lens.
Once the supernatural stuff starts happening, the movie provides a few genuinely scary/chilling moments. I never thought I’d be startled by Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man,’ but here we are.
What Doesn’t Work
The movie’s supporting cast is as bland as you can imagine. In some cases, it’s due to how they’re written — like the bully who torments Craig (Kenny Yankovich) having all the nuance of a sledgehammer. Other times, it’s due to a heavy-handed attempt at relaying a theme. While I can appreciate the film’s message about people withdrawing from each other due to their phones, the repeated instances of Craig and his girlfriend only communicating via text while sitting next to each other were a bit much.
Kirby Howell-Baptiste is great as Craig’s favorite teacher (Ms. Hart), but she’s not given nearly enough presence or screen time to establish her importance in his life. It makes Craig’s extreme reaction to her passing feel jarring in a manner that it shouldn’t. In an effort to make up for this, the film portrays Ms. Mart’s negligent killer in a way that makes Kenny Yankovich appear like a model of subtlety.
The movie also isn’t able to fully capture the emotional depth of Craig and Mr. Harrigan’s bond. It certainly tries, but there just wasn’t enough there to justify the impact the script was hoping to achieve. When the story switches over to a supernatural ghost tale, it feels like we’re missing some key components. This ultimately leads the narrative to a ragged, unsatisfying end.
It should note here that the film’s ending is pretty much the same as it is in the book. Unfortunately, the path we take to get there in this adaptation is much, much weaker.
Although it may appear like the negatives out weigh the positives, there’s still a lot to like about this film — especially the lead performances. They’re so good, in fact, that they lift the movie from what could’ve easily been a dud to an average/mediocre watch.
With such a great narrative to draw from, though, it’s a real shame Mr. Harrigan’s Phone wasn’t better. For those of you who still want to give it a chance, there are some wonderful moments to behold. That said, your time would be much better spent reading the original story by Stephen King, instead.
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