The latest Netflix Stephen King adaptation, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, is now streaming as part of the “Netflix and Chills” Halloween lineup but should you give it a watch?
Based on the novella of the same name from the collection If It Bleeds, the film follows Craig, a young boy living in a small town, who befriends older, reclusive billionaire Mr. Harrigan. The two form a bond over books and an iPhone, but when the man passes away, the boy discovers that not everything dead is gone and finds himself able to communicate with his friend from the grave through the iPhone buried with him.
The film stars Jaeden Martell (IT, Knives Out, Metal Lords) as the aforementioned Craig and Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games, “Salem’s Lot”, Outbreak) as the titular Mr. Harrigan. The film also features The Sandman’s Kirby Howell-Baptiste, The Morning Show’s Joe Tippett, and Colin O’Brien who plays the younger version of Craig.
As a fan of Stephen King’s writing since middle school and a fan of several of his screen adaptations over the years, I have been comforted by his familiar beats many times. The charm of small-town Maine. A character who wants to be a writer or is one. The viewpoint of a child going through bullying & grief. The supernatural. To the delight of his loyal supporters, this film has all of that. As an added bonus to myself, the film was shot in my home state of Connecticut, so you can’t get more comfortable than with the comforts of home.
However, the one thing King is known for the most, terror & dread, is largely absent in this story. It has been replaced by a loose morality tale that deals more in the fear of technology & power than it does in anything macabre. Oddly, in a movie where people die from a teenager’s simple call to the afterlife, the message heavily favors an older generation’s anxieties about what they think this teenager should fear.
“We don’t own things. Things own us.”
Mr. Harrigan seems to be a clairvoyant or a soothsayer for our internet futures. In the most on-the-nose dialogue, he predicts all the perils of the modern age: fake news, the fall of newspapers, untrustworthy gatekeepers, & lack of privacy and security.
To further the Skynet-level mistrust of the tech uprising, King and writer/director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Little Things) make the iPhone specifically the ultimate tool of power & corruption. In many ways, the iPhone is another of King’s famous tropes: the deal with the devil. After using his phone to get in with the popular crowd and talk to girls, Craig then turns to his deceased friend and mentor within his phone’s reach to write the wrongs of his unjust world, to dispatch his enemies with haste and without guilt as he has been advised to do. The devil is on your shoulder and on your phone. Got it.
However, the execution of this message in conjunction with the arc of Craig is so simplistic and mundane that it makes its audience turn away to their own 2nd screens. There are no repercussions for this unholy alliance, nor do we feel much anguish from Craig as he wields his blade with a few keystrokes and a swipe. He continuously moves on from death with the same reaction we would have to playing too much Candy Crush.
“When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”
This Oscar Wilde quote is the first thing spoken in this movie, but what its creators forgot was the actual punishment to its protagonist or possibly his accomplice. Giving up power does not equal the bloodshed on his hands. What remains is a morality test for the audience as to whether the ends justify the means for Craig’s brand of justice.
The movie is at its best when the bond is being forged between Craig and Mr. Harrigan over classical readings and the interpretations therein. Conversations over money, power, and the “gift of death” are the best representations of depth & insight in this story, especially when they reflect on the contrast between the grieving yet hopeful Craig versus the calculating & relentless Harrigan.
While it may have some bright spots, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone lacks the urgency, propulsion, and bent more befitting of its author and its Ghost Story genre.
Watch Mr. Harrigan’s Phone on Netflix if you like:
- Needful Things
- Pet Sematary
- Black Mirror
- Castle Rock
MVP of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
Donald Sutherland as Mr. Harrigan.
This is just perfect casting. Much like his character in the film, Sutherland often performs with a level of sophistication and subtle mistrust, allowing him to nest inside such smiling demons as President Snow in The Hunger Games film series or the General in Outbreak.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP?:
The most devout of King’s followers will find its familiarity soothing. However, this one lacks the depth or haunting imagery of his previous screen adaptations.
Did you watch Mr. Harrigan’s Phone on Netflix? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.