If Stephen King wrote two words down on a napkin, Hollywood would likely scramble to adapt it into a movie. Since Brian DePalma turned King’s first novel, Carrie, into a horror classic, studios and filmmakers have turned to the author’s work time and time again. Some of these efforts – The Shining, Misery, It, The Shawshank Redemption – are classics in their own right. But for every Salem’s Lot or Gerald’s Game, there’s a handful of Sleepwalkers or Graveyard Shift’s. Just in time for Halloween season, Netflix has released their latest Stephen King adaptation – Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. This one comes from one of King’s more recent works, If It Bleeds, which was a collection of unpublished novellas.
Even as a young boy, Craig isn’t a stranger to tragedy having lost his mother. But he finds solace in the friendship he develops with the elderly Mr. Harrigan. Three times a week Craig visits and reads to the wealthy Mr. Harrigan. Craig even introduces the lonely old man to smart phones. When Mr. Harrigan passes away, Craig places the old man’s cellphone in the casket with him – perhaps as a way to symbolically stay connected. Soon after his death, however, Craig begins to receive cryptic text messages from Mr. Harrigan’s Phone.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone Gets a Busy Signal on The Scares
On the surface, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone has a lot going for it. After all, Stephen King is the master of horror and the premise holds some creepy promise. The casting was pretty astute and writer and director John Lee Hancock has a decent, if not unremarkable, track record. Just a few minutes into the supernatural thriller and you’ll immediately see that this isn’t cheap knock-off. But that’s about where all the positives end. With few exceptions, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is not a scary movie and likely will disappoint Netflix subscribers looking for a Halloween fix. Maybe there’s one or two minor jumps spread across an hour and 44 minutes of movie. However, you’d be hard-pressed to describe those moments as anything other than minor. And they don’t pop up until well past the one hour mark.
With few exceptions, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is not a scary movie and likely will disappoint Netflix subscribers looking for a Halloween fix.
This brings us to the next problem with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. In the absence of jumps and suspense, Hancock also fails to craft anything resembling atmosphere to keep audiences on edge. To be fair, I haven’t read King’s novella yet but Hancock’s adaptation just meanders for the near entirety of the movie. Its conclusion is so underwhelming that it may actually be the most shocking part of the movie. Maybe Mr. Harrigan’s Phone was intended to be a coming-of-age drama with some supernatural elements. Nevertheless, this one fails as even light horror.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone ‘Phones In’ Its Story and Characters
But if Mr. Harrigan’s Phone intends to follow in the footsteps of Stand By Me, it still comes up short. The story structure itself is just too familiar to really resonate with audiences. Moreover, the story doesn’t seem to have much to say about growing up in the 2000s. Occasionally, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone grasps at bigger ideas around our smart phone addiction and the ease with which information spreads. But the themes are undercooked at best and more then than not come off as preachy. Quick lines about the dangers of misinformation aren’t nearly as profound as the movie intends. Besides we’ve seen much better horror movies tackle similar themes in the last year or so.
Sutherland possesses such a commanding screen presence – he’s effortlessly intimidating or comforting depending on the screenplay’s requirements.
What’s really unfortunate is that Mr. Harrigan’s Phone wastes good performances from its lead actors. At this point in his career, Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) could phone in this sort of character. Sutherland possesses such a commanding screen presence – he’s effortlessly intimidating or comforting depending on the screenplay’s requirements. Unfortunately, Hancock’s screenplay never fleshes out Mr. Harrigan’s character aside from some expository dialogue. Likewise, Jaeden Martell (The Lodge, It) is already a pro at this sort of material. Yet in spite of his subtly strong work here, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone similarly does little to distinguish Craig from any other character in any other coming-of-age tale.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone Dials a Wrong Number for Netflix
Regardless of how closely it follows the source material. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a not particularly good horror movie. There’s few, if any, scares over its near two-hour runtime. In addition, Hancock fails to generate suspense or a sense of urgency in part because the story itself just kind of meanders to its conclusion. As a coming-of-age drama, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone won’t likely have much appeal either. We’ve seen this story before many times and the supernatural thriller has nothing new to say. Though it’s a technically well-produced movie, this King adaptation is a pretty dull affair.