Stephen King’s work has a history of being adapted into a visual format, and it’s easy to understand why. His literary work is incredibly haunting and probes at much deeper meanings often with chilling conclusions. So when I saw that his 2020 novella Mr Harrigan’s Phone was getting a Netflix film I was excited to check it out. His work as a collection makes for perfect spooky viewing during the month of October.
Mr Harrigan’s Phone, directed by John Lee Hancock, tells of a young boy Craig (Jaeden Martell) who has been tasked with reading to a rich old man, Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) after his health starts to decline. Over the years the two strike up quite the friendship as they bridge the generational gap sharing their thoughts and opinions about famous literary pieces. After Mr. Harrigan helps Craig earn some significant money, he repays the kindness by buying his elderly friend a smartphone so as to keep him connected with the outside world. But after Mr. Harrigan’s eventual passing Craig starts to receive some unusual phone calls and text messages from an unlikely sender, Mr. Harrigan.
I am torn by this film. While I feel like the original plot showed promise of being incredibly chilling by having Craig being haunted by his smart phone from beyond the grave, the story never really follows through. I loved the concept of a smart device essentially turning into the villain in a sense, and while it does it’s absolutely muddied with the very handed sub-plot about the use of technology in the modern age.
The story is set during the advent of the smartphone which can be seen throughout Craig’s experiences in high school as the device begins to spread among his classmates growing in popularity over time. The narrative pivots however when Craig buys a device for Mr. Harrigan who begins to question the technology and the information available on it. The old man almost seemingly predicts the future of the danger of this type of technology in the wrong hands and the type of audience it could reach in what is to represent a moment of foreshadowing serving as a warning to the audience as much as Craig. Given the timeframe the film is set in versus the time it’s being viewed equates to a poorly hamfisted messaging about the controlling of information behind paywalls, and the dangers of misinformation spreading online. The scene sets up to be almost akin to something of a Nostrodamus warning but the messaging to a crowd in 2022 is incredibly late.
Even the more chilling tones of the story leave a little to be desired because the moments of tension are actually done pretty well, but are fleeting at best. The film is less tension-fueled, and more tension-light. Which left me frustrated because given the stories 1 hour and 44 minute run time, it felt a lot longer as the pace tends to drag out and is crying out for more in the way of spine chilling scenes.
This is likely due to the overall ending of the film given there’s no real resolution, instead leaving you with an open-ended interpretation and many dangling threads. I understood the delivery mechanism, but for me, it just didn’t land.
If you’ve got the time, Mr Harrigan’s Phone is an ok watch this October if you’re stuck for ideas. It does deliver some good chilling moments and while the film shows potential overall, by the end you’ll find yourself realizing the concept was heavily underutilized. The option for using the ‘technology is to be approached with caution’ was poorly executed. A sub-average streaming film by all accounts.
Mr Harrigan ‘s Phone is available now, exclusively on Netflix.
Mr. Harrigan's Phone
- Rating - 6.5/106.5/10
If you’ve got the time, Mr Harrigan ‘s Phone is an ok watch this October if you’re stuck for ideas. It does deliver some good chilling moments and while the film shows potential overall, by the end you’ll find yourself realizing the concept was heavily underutilized. The option for using the ‘technology is to be approached with caution’ was poorly executed. A sub-average streaming film by all accounts.
Aaron is a contributing writer at But Why Tho, serving as a reviewer for TV and Film. He is also the co-host and social media manager of the Nerds Social Club podcast.
Hailing originally from England, and after some lengthy questing, he’s currently set up shop in Pennsylvania. He spends his days reading comics, podcasting, and being attacked by his small offspring.