What is the point of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone? I watched it waiting for SOMETHING to happen, but nothing really does. The narration certainly sounds like Stephen King, and it’s based on one of the short stories in his If It Bleeds collection, but not having read it, I don’t know what about it made producers think it was worth making into a movie. The book has GOT to be better. It surprises me that Blumhouse and Ryan Murphy are producers of such a bland and lifeless drama. None of Ryan Murphy’s signature style of surreal and dark humor is present, nor is the spine-tingling suspense one expects from a Blumhouse film. At the end of the 106 minute run time, I just wanted that time back to watch something better when there are so many offerings in the spooky month of October. Spoiler warning: this review has some.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone tells the story of Craig (Jaeden Martell, who is no stranger to Stephen King’s material, having played Bill Denbrough in the It movies) and his childhood relationship with the elder Mr. Harrigan (the inimitable Donald Sutherland) who hires him to read aloud to him from early early adolescence. In their hours together, Mr. Harrigan teaches Craig life lessons, and Craig teaches Mr. Harrigan how to use an iPhone, setting up his favorite song “Stand By Your Man” as their ring tones for each other. Mr. Harrigan becomes adept at checking his stocks and reading up-to-the-minute news from his favorite publications like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and even predicts the future of paywalls, targeted ads, and disappearing social interaction, as he himself tunes out Craig’s reading because the tiny screen steals his focus.
Mr. Harrigan eventually dies of natural causes, and perhaps in a misguided way to manage his grief, Craig puts Mr. Harrigan’s cell phone in his casket before he is buried. Defying all rules of battery life and signal towers, Craig gets texts from Mr. Harrigan from the grave (like a modern telling of The Twilight Zone episode “Night Call”). When Craig gets badly beaten by the school bully Kenny Yankovich (Cyrus Arnold), he calls Mr. Harrigan’s phone to vent since he has no other outlet under threat of death from Kenny if he tells. He tells Mr. Harrigan he’s afraid this won’t end with the one beating and wishes he could ask his advice. The next day, Kenny is found dead, having fallen from his bedroom window while attempting to sneak out. This weighs heavily on Craig’s conscience as the timing has him convinced Mr. Harrigan is somehow helping him from beyond the grave, and he regrets his perceived role in Kenny’s death so much he upgrades his phone and hides the old one away in a shoebox in his closet.
Nothing much happens in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone…ever
After Kenny’s death, and with his upgraded phone, Craig moves on with his life, getting accepted to Emerson and being able to afford it due to the generous inheritance Mr. Harrington left for him in his will. At this point I looked at the time remaining on the movie (a half hour) because I thought this couldn’t possibly be it, but the story seemed to be wrapping up, completely devoid anything more even resembling the supernatural. The plot does meander around to another possible death by Mr. Harrington – and the big question is if all of this is real or in Craig’s head. Is he really receiving messages from the grave, or is he imagining it? He’s not imagining the deaths, nor could he possibly be causing them unconsciously, so even that hackneyed but at least somewhat more interesting scenario isn’t in play.
I think it is important to acknowledge that all movies take a lot of time, effort, and money to produce. The movie is good looking with a beautiful setting and some nice cinematography. Jaeden Martell as Craig gives that voice over narration that one associates with Stephen King’s tales like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Donald Sutherland is always good (he is one of the reasons I wanted to watch), although he doesn’t have much to DO in this movie. The problem is that the movie itself doesn’t DO anything. It doesn’t go anywhere, it’s not supernatural enough, suspenseful enough, there aren’t really any thrills or horrors, it really is just a coming of age story that doesn’t speak the language of the young adults who watch these things in this era. If asking me to stream it or skip it, I say skip it – I don’t expect it will last long in the “trending” Netflix category.
Can a movie with a few benign supernatural elements really be considered part of the genre? Let me know in the comments!