Answer Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (2022) for Sweet Gateway Horror Drama
Title: Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
First Non-Festival Release: October 5, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: John Lee Hancock, Stephen King
Runtime: 104 Minutes
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Jaeden Martell, Joe Tippett
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Craig (Jaeden Martell) is approached by ruthless billionaire Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) for a job offer reading to him three times a week for $5.00 an hour. At 9 years old, this is a tempting offer to make money without any real skills, but over time Craig begins to enjoy his time spent with the old man. They end up sharing great conversation and a deep appreciation for one another. Mr. Harrigan imparts life advice and wisdom to Craig and Craig eventually teaches him how to use his new phone. A few months into his freshman year, Mr. Harrigan dies, leaving Craig particularly broken. The connection they forged through technology, however, may not be entirely gone.
Sentimental coming-of-age drama is mixed with lite horror to make an enjoyable yet middling Stephen King adaptation in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone.
At its core, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is tale of loss that describes how grief and loss shape one’s life. The most obvious ways come through Craig’s home life and his subsequent loss of his grandfather figure in Mr. Harrigan. Loss shines brighter when it considers the ways in which loss touch a person beyond immediate connections. What aspect of your character is revealed when someone who hurts you dies? Is it immoral to wish death on those that cause pain? While the film doesn’t ponder too long, the questions are interesting enough to muse over long after watching.
Solid lead performances by Donald Sutherland and Jaeden Martell make the film more affecting than its aimless script provides. Sutherland manages to showcase Mr. Harrigan’s humanity while not taking away the fierce power behind his appearance. His fondness for Craig feels genuine and every moment the two are onscreen together, it looks like he is fighting something within him to make up for his demons. On the other hand, Martell imbues a certain earnestness and care in a lost young man. He handles the stages of grief beautifully and allow the full range of emotions to show in Craig. It’s difficult to maintain the type of sweetness for too long, especially as characters age and make poor decisions, but even in Craig’s most enraged, there is still a sense of love driving him thanks to Martell.
Many of the film’s issues stem from odd choices, both in narrative and direction, leading it to be such an uneven watch. Never truly crescendoing in its story, the film ends abruptly right when it begins parsing through the moral conundrum faced by Craig. The lack of resolution is particularly disappointing given the amount of character development afforded to Craig throughout the film. While this is the biggest issue of the film, even smaller ones build up ultimately detracting from its emotional core. Inappropriate closeups during charged conversations, finger waving commentary on phone usage, and odd dialogue choices catch the viewer off guard, making them wonder where the tone has jumped.
This lack of identity makes it difficult to take seriously at times. As Craig glides through his purportedly volatile high school and works his way through college as a talented journalist, much of his story seems too easy. Outside of his phone conversations with Mr. Harrigan, Craig rarely makes things happen. Instead, things happen to him. This passive approach with Craig’s life makes it difficult to feel invested in his story. Even when he finally makes a decision regarding his connection with his first iPhone, it lacks the satisfaction of a more satisfying ending.
Despite its shortcomings, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a competent and sweet coming-of-age horror that explores the nuances of grief and death. It’s always shocking to find that Hollywood has mined even more material from Stephen King, but it’s clearer than ever that his stories have a way of sticking with audiences and production companies alike. Solid lead performances and affecting moments outweigh the odd directorial choices and worn commentary on phone usage. It’s not the call everyone needs, but Mr. Harrigan’s Phone makes for an enjoyable watch all the same.
Overall Score? 6/10