‘Mr. Harrigan’s Phone’ Review: King Adaptation Loses Signal Midway
By Daniel Rester
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the latest Stephen King adaptation to hit the screens, this one written and directed by John Lee Hancock. It is based on King’s novella of the same name from the collection If It Bleeds, which was just released in 2020. Netflix and Blumhouse wasted no time in getting the film made as King adaptations continue to come out left and right. Perhaps they should have considered making this one as a TV episode though as it loses steam as a feature film.
Hancock’s film stars Jaeden Martell, who memorably played Bill in the King adaptation It (2017). Martell plays Craig in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. He is hired to read to an old billionaire named Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland), who is losing his eyesight. Craig gives a cell phone to Harrigan as a gift one day. After Harrigan dies, Craig continues to call and text the phone as a cry for help as he mentions those who have hurt him. It turns out that Harrigan’s spirit is actually listening and sets out to avenge Craig.
Hancock seems like an odd choice to adapt King material that focuses on the supernatural. The filmmaker is better known for sentimental pictures like The Blind Side (2009) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013). It’s not surprising then that the warm relationship building between Craig and Harrigan is well done but that the more ghostly elements feel off. Hancock is in his zone as the first half of the film is fine, but unfortunately the second half becomes dull.
Everything looks polished in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone while Javier Navarrete supplies Hancock with a nice music score. But Hancock falls back on narration as a crutch too often and tells instead of shows the dangers of phones; Sutherland is also strapped with an obvious monologue about information being given away. There’s little urgency or style in any of the images even as people start dying, with the execution coming across as flat instead of quietly spooky.
Nothing can be blamed on Martell or Sutherland. The two actors are excellent here. Martell hits sympathy notes throughout with believability while Sutherland gives Harrigan subtle bite. The supporting cast gets little to do though as they play stock characters like drug-dealing bully, understanding teacher, etc.
There have been some terrific films based on King novellas, like Stand By Me (1986) and The Mist (2007), but this is not one of them. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone feels stretched and would have worked better as a 50-minute anthology episode. Or maybe it could have worked as a feature if Hancock gave it more meat as a morality tale. As is, it is watchable and has solid acting but ultimately feels a bit lifeless.
My Grade: 5.8/10 (letter grade equivalent: C+)
Running Time: 1h 44min
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone premiered on Netflix on October 5, 2022.