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Review of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone

A dated ghost story that, regrettably, phonies it in.


The old-fashioned, almost-gothic ghost story Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, which is based on a short story by Stephen King, is just the kind of scare we need in time for Halloween, right? Well, if it were any good, it would be. Instead, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone wastes its intriguing setting by using a supernatural thriller to present a weak, useless cautionary lesson. Even its contemporary adaptation reads more like a one-note lecture about our smartphone addiction.


What’s worse is that throughout its excessively lengthy duration, this potentially terrifying story accomplishes essentially nothing frightening. No monsters, dream sequences, jump scares, gore, or anything even closely like a big enough fear to justify calling this a horror movie are present. Instead, the film’s director, John Lee Hancock, wastes an hour and 45 minutes circling a shoddy moral lesson that tells us two things: killing people is terrible, and using smartphones is bad. Maybe I’m oversimplifying… but just somewhat.


The endearing connection between the mysterious Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) and Craig (Jaeden Martell), a young kid who accepts a job reading books to the elderly billionaire three times a week, is the film’s saving grace. When Harrigan passes away, things become more exciting, if momentarily, as Craig starts to discover that he may still contact his deceased friend through a smartphone that was buried with him. Isn’t that a peculiarly intriguing idea? Unfortunately, it never really progresses.


Sutherland portrays Mr. Harrigan with a mystique that makes you unsure of whether he is a good man or something altogether different. If this approach paid out in any way, it would be fantastic. However, Mr. Harrigan himself continues to be as lifeless as the movie’s script, eliminating any glimmer of dramatic suspense in favour of a pretty banal story of friendship. Martell also does a good job portraying Craig, a young man who just wants to figure out where he belongs in the world. Of course, you’ll recognise him from the much more horrifying adaptation of Stephen King’s It. He skillfully juggles an overly emotional script while attempting to give his clumsy lines a feeling of urgency. Unfortunately, it never quite clicks, and instead of being a horror or supernatural thriller, the movie quickly turns into a coming-of-age tale.


Surprisingly, though, those components function quite effectively. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone provides us with a view into adolescent life at a very specific time—during the emergence of the cellphone and, more specifically, the 2007 introduction of the first iPhone. It’s a cute look at how smartphones altered the cultural environment in addition to the technological one. The smartphone has an instant effect on Craig’s high school social circles, and as the young lad shows Mr. Harrigan how to use one, we can observe both advantages and disadvantages.


Where is the urgency, though? the danger? the tenseness Mr. Harrigan’s Phone struggles to the finish line even as a drama since it has nothing to say and takes a long time to say it. The intriguing notion could have provided a growing slow-burn as we confront Craig’s plight in reality. After all, receiving a call from a deceased buddy who has crossed over should be unsettling. But it simply… isn’t. The gradual untethering of a young man who understands the seriousness of what he’s doing should be shown to us, especially as his adversaries start to come up dead. But Mr. Harrigan’s Phone falls short of providing us with any sort of satisfactory or intriguing tale; Craig’s situation lacks any real punch, and there are no scares either.


What is essentially little more than a coming-of-age tale has very little substance.
As far of adaptations go, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone has the same feel as a short tale that has been expanded into a full-length movie. What is essentially little more than a coming-of-age tale has very little substance. Hancock could have taken the notion and developed it farther, but he wildly cuts it off.


Along with its too sparse plot, the glossy but dated aesthetics don’t add anything. The historic New England mansion has the old-world charm you would anticipate of an ageing billionaire, making Harrigan’s abode almost interesting. However, this is also a chance lost. What might have been a hauntingly eerie setting for a supernatural horror is now merely a house. In the end, it’s hollow, just like the movie.


The Stephen King adaption Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is gratingly dull and wastes an intriguing concept. By avoiding a bombardment of dramatic opportunities, filmmaker John Lee Hancock manages to destroy the possibility for ghostly horrors by turning any potentially fascinating, frightening, or emotional moments into mundane ones. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone might have served as the starting point for a tale that explores how terrifying modern life can be in the hands of a more adventurous director. Unfortunately, no chances are made at all, leading to a story with incredibly low stakes that is decidedly boring. You really have to respect Mr. Harrigan’s mobile reception, though.


The play Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, which poses as a supernatural thriller, is dreadfully dull. The movie drags out its far too lengthy runtime to present a plot that isn’t really worth watching, so don’t expect any scares. Donald Sutherland and Jaeden Martell provide strong performances that give us a peek of a sweet friendship that crosses age boundaries. Even still, there isn’t much to truly get your teeth into because the excessive emotion trumps any attempt at a compelling narrative. This adaptation is nothing more than a short tale extended out into a not really scary or dramatic non-horror movie thanks to a formulaic, by-the-book scenario that falls flat. Early signs of promise are present in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, but little is done with it. The only terrifying aspect is the potential roaming fees for Harrigan.

Justin Charpentier

Justin Charpentier is a Journalist at Flaunt Weekly.

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