Arriving on Netflix today is the horror-thriller, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. The movie – written and directed by John Lee Hancock – is based on a Stephen King story (taken from the book, If It Bleeds) and stars Jaeden Martell, Donald Sutherland, and Joe Tippett.
In the movie, school boy Craig takes on a job working for rich elderly gentleman, John Harrigan. The job involves going to Harrigan’s home every week, and reading him stories from his vast library.
For five years, Craig visits Mr. Harrigan three times a week, only missing one appointment due to illness. Over this time, the two form a strong bond of mutual respect and they develop a friendship.
As part of this friendship, Craig gifts Mr. Harrigan an iPhone. He shows him how to use it, sets up a special ringtone, and now has a direct line to his friend, should he ever need it.
But a short time later, Mr. Harrigan passes away. His death comes as a huge shock to Craig, and he comes to miss his friend dearly.
He misses him so much, that during the funeral, Craig slips Mr. Harrigan’s phone into his casket, so that he will be buried with the device. However, he quickly comes to regret this decision, when he starts to receive messages on his own phone, seemingly from beyond the grave.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone has a very interesting premise, is well shot, has a solid cast, the perfect tone, and all the right ingredients to become a chilling horror film. On paper, it has all the hallmarks for a superb picture, and one which I should be telling you is a macabre little movie, and a must-see flick that you should watch during the Halloween season.
It’s just a shame then that I can’t really tell you this. While the film does indeed have a lot going for it, and is good in many, many ways, it is also a flawed film and it is not the horror story it sets out to be.
The problem with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is that this is a slow-burning tale, which takes far too long to really get going, and then when it does get off the ground, it is all over far too quickly. The film never goes to the places it suggests it might, never digs deep into the horror it has at its disposal, and the end result is something which feels like a missed opportunity.
This movie has the potential to be a frightening, spine-tingling tale, sure to unnerve those who cast their eyes over it. However, all of that potential falls by the wayside, leaving a piece which isn’t bad, but is far from the film it could be.
The issue seems to be the way the story unfolds. The main thrust of the movie is the death of Mr. Harrigan and the spooky business with the phone, yet none of this really kicks in until midway into the movie.
The first half of the film is set-up, which is fine to watch, creates a suitable atmosphere, but is all a bit long winded. Then the death occurs, the phone is buried, and from here things get mildly (and I mean mildly) spooky.
Then the light spookiness fades away rather quickly, there’s a bit more long-windedness, and that’s about it. There’s a couple of touching moments, a bit of monologuing, but all-in-all, not much else.
The film doesn’t so much as end, as just fizzle out. All of that set-up doesn’t really go anywhere, and all of the interesting ideas never really get acted upon.
It’s as if all of the right characters and story beats are up on the screen, and they are all ready and waiting to be utilised, but writer/director John Lee Hancock fails to do anything with them. He takes a Stephen King book, works out how to make it look and feel like a King story for the screen, but then fails to inject any horror into his adaptation.
The whole thing feels rather neutered. It could have gone harder, darker, and creepier, and yet it didn’t.
As a result of its approach, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone feels a little too light in places and far too drawn out. On reflection, this whole thing could have been crammed into a 45-minute episode of a television show, existing as one story in an anthology series (similar to how it is presented in print), rather than stretched out to feature-length.
But for the record, I do think this story could work as a feature-length movie, I just don’t believe this is that movie. This version lacks the bite needed to make it zing, preferring to focus on sentiment over scares.
Putting the above to one side for a moment, everything else about this movie does work. The casting is great, with Jaeden Martell providing a fine turn as Craig, and Donald Sutherland bringing gravitas to the role of John Harrigan.
The setting, the support characters, and the music are all good too. There’s a genuine sense that this movie captures King’s voice, bringing a real flavour of his work from book to screen.
So, despite the issues surrounding the way the story is told, the presentation is all there and it does tick many of the required boxes. It also hits some strong emotional beats and at times is engaging.
But it just never quite works and that is the sticking point. In trying to flesh out King’s short story, the film becomes padded, it loses sight of what it could be, and ultimately feels a bit pointless.
If you’re a King fan, or you like the idea of the premise, then you should probably give Mr. Harrigan’s Phone a watch to see for yourself. I expect you will find yourself becoming engrossed in the material and keen to see how it will all play out.
However, like me, I feel you will come away from this picture wishing it was something else. You’ll accept there is something here which could have been truly great, but know ultimately that this isn’t it.