MR. HARRIGAN'S PHONE
October 5, 2022 / Netflix
Donald Sutherland, Jaeden Martell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Joe Tippett, Cyrus Arnold
A boy named Craig befriends the elderly Mr. Harrigan and gives him a cell phone. When Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig begins to make calls to his old number about those who torment him, only to find that doing so results in Mr. Harrigan's spirit avenging his young friend from beyond the grave.
Written By Darren
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a compelling supernatural drama that features Stephen King’s signature mix of the supernatural and human emotion, that creates an enjoyable and engaging film.
Stephen King is synonymous with the horror genre, having been responsible for some of the most terrifying novels and films the past four decades, ranging from The Shining to IT and Pet Sematary. But what makes his works so terrifying is how he takes some of the most human emotions and situations, drenched with dread and trauma, that makes the perfect setting for horror elements and jump scares. He not only knows how to create terrifying villains such as Pennywise or Jack Torrence, but also how to create an atmosphere that will get under your skin that is fully anchored in reality. And that is exactly what Mr. Harrigan’s Phone does, based on the short story by King, which is funny enough not the only horror film featuring a phone written by a member of the King family we’ve seen this year.
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock, the film tells the story of Craig, a young boy mourning the loss of his mother when he is hired by the reclusive Mr. Harrigan to read to him on a weekly basis. The two of them strike up a bond, born out of their love of books and reading, but when Mr. Harrigan passes, Craig quickly discovers that their friendship survives death as he is able to communicate beyond the grave with Mr. Harrigan through his first generation iPhone. Hancock weaves themes of grief and loss throughout the story as Craig grows up and discovers that the world is a far more sinister place than any child could imagine. But, Hancock finds true beauty and warmth in the relationships between the main characters. There is comfort for Craig in his relationships with his single father, trying to do right by his son while being directionless without his wife, and with Mr. Harrington who is lonely and develops a special bond with Craig. It’s here that the film spends its first half, tapping into the human and emotional core of the story. By doing so, Hancock sets a light tone for the film despite some of the heavier themes it’s dealing with, setting up for the eventual passing of Mr. Harrington so the audience is on edge for the latter half when the supernatural element takes over.
The film has its jump scares in the second half, and there are some truly chilling moments in addition to commentary on the dangers of technology as the film takes place during the dawn of the smartphone, but it’s not your typical horror film. It’s a coming of age story infused with supernatural elements to heighten the themes and emotions of the story. And by the end of the film, while you are engulfed in the terror of the story’s final destination, I was overcome by a wave of emotion that tugged on the heart strings and got me feeling emotional as only a King story can do.
Though, it is the performances that bring the film to life. Led by Jaeden Martell as Craig, Martell is great in his second King adaptation. He does the heavy emotional lifting of the story as he invites the audience into the emotional development of Craig in his teenage years, bearing everything in the final act as Craig deals with the ramifications of his actions. Sharing the screen with a legend like Donald Sutherland is no easy task, but Martel and Sutherland craft a truly personal connection between their characters. It's an effortless rapport between the two of them, as they craft the relationship that defines the entire film. Sutherland as always is outstanding, perfectly capturing this old man who on the surface seems like an evil man, but nicely portrays the hurting soul who is looking to fill a void that has been in his life for many years.
While often in a supporting role and goes by unnoticed despite being in so many films and television shows, Joe Tippett is a solid addition as Craig’s father, navigating being a single parent while mourning the loss of his wife. It’s a quiet performance, but one that Tippett handles with care and crafts a good father-son bond with Martell. Rounding out the principal cast is Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Craig’s teacher Ms. Hart, and while it is a smaller role, it is an important role that allows Howell-Baptiste to flex her dramatic acting talents after normally being cast in comedy projects.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is not for the teenage audience looking for the biggest jump scares they can find this Halloween, horror aficionados with a more developed taste of what can be terrifying, this film is certain to delight those audiences. Oozing with a sense of dread and an emotional undercurrent that leaves you on edge, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is another excellent Stephen King adaptation that benefits greatly from the lead pairing and performances of Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland.