Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (2022)

Director: John Lee Hancock

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Jaeden Martell

Review Author: Tony

Synopsis: Craig, a young boy, befriends the elderly billionaire John Harrigan. Craig then gives him a mobile phone. However, when the man dies, Craig discovers he can communicate with his friend from the grave.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is the first film in a long time to make me feel something physical! I use the word physical because I certainly wouldn’t call the feeling that this film arrested in me as profound. Still, it was, in fact, actually a headache from just how dull and lifeless an experience watching it is. Bearing the Netflix logo was the first sign to begin lowering my expectations. Then seeing it was a Stephen King adaptation set off alarm bells as we appear to be returning to the status quo of more terrible King adaptations than quality ones. Yet, despite my reluctance, I was a guest in another’s house and wished to avoid being rude with their choice. Also, I self-consciously feel like sometimes I come across as a pretentious movie twat and just thought maybe my gut feeling could be wrong. It Wasn’t!!

So how bad can a movie be to have me reaching for two paracetamol to soothe my aching head? It takes 1 hour and 45 minutes of painstakingly dull storytelling, hokey contemporary messages, zero tension, cardboard supporting characters, and a plot that seems to be in no rush to conjure anything of any interest. For a supposed horror film, there are no scares, there’s no atmosphere, nothing that could be described as creepy or unsettling, and worst of all, not one ounce of effort into building tension. Instead, this film slogs from scene to scene with nothing of actual note until 45 minutes into the film. And yet shockingly, the film is a faithful adaptation of the source material of the same name.

The short story Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is actually a decent little tale from King that fronts as a coming-of-age story with a gothic horror twist where King successfully, for once, tied cell phones into his storytelling. While the original short has a touch of ‘How do you do, fellow Kids?’, he does an excellent job of tying in themes of guilt and consequence. Director John Lee Hancock brings more or less all the relevant scenes and events from the story to the big screen but fumbles with the execution, eschewing the darker and hard-hitting notes of the short story for edgeless narration.

One area where the film does succeed is the relationship between Mr. Harrigan and Chris, our protagonist. Sutherland and Martell share believable chemistry creating a convincing friendship between such an odd pairing. Harrigan has a reputation as a ruthless and cold individual with plenty of detractors. Still, Chris forms a close relationship with witnessing a warmer and more reflective side of the old recluse. As Chris sees the rounding of Harrigan’s rougher edges, Harrigan sees a bright spark in Chris and bestows advice to Chris in approaching girls and dealing with bullies, giving Chris more confidence. Unfortunately, while Hancock does a good job crafting this genuine companionship, he utterly fails to build anything tangible or significant outside his two leading actors.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is meant to be a tale about morality, guilt, and consequence. Instead, the film delves into a nonsensical plot about the dangers of relying on our cell phones as Sutherland has to deliver an eye-rolling hamfisted tale where he foretells the troubles of misinformation and phone addiction. The cell phone is supposed to only be a medium in the story, a means to portray the supernatural. Still, Hancock clumsily hammers the device into his script. When the theme of guilt and the question of Chris’ culpability comes into play, the film is utterly toothless, showing more conviction in representing the dangers of phone addiction. Afraid to commit to the darker side of the story’s vengeance plot, the two victims are shown to be unredeemable arseholes with zero layers. The big moment where Chris’ high school teacher is killed by a drunk driver has zero gravitas or emotional impact. The character was so nonexistent prior to her death that I thought she was just a speaking extra.

Giving the film some credit, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is somewhat competently made in terms of movie structure (something you cannot rely on when it comes to Netflix films), the two leads do an admirable job with such a dry script, and the cinematography has some flourishes even if it matches the dull monotone nature of the film. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a prime example of poorly adapting the source material to film. Hancock cuts the themes that made the initial story compelling and inserts his outdated commentary about reliance on technology.

Rating:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

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Author: Reel Time Flicks

Passionate about film and writing since 2015.

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