As a long-time fan of the works of Stephen King, a new adaptation usually prompts a particular sense of tentative anticipation. Film adaptations of King’s work are notoriously hit-and-miss: a handful are considered among the best movies of all time, while others are considered among the worst. Even in the King titles directly adapted by Netflix alone, this trend can be followed, and Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is yet another in that line.
Adapted from the novella of the same name from Stephen King’s If It Bleeds collection, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone follows Craig, a young boy who forms a relationship with an elderly billionaire. Starring Jaeden Martell as Craig and Donald Sutherland as Mr. Harrigan, the film follows the strange events of Craig’s life in the years before and after Harrigan’s death. After gifting the technophobe with a smartphone shortly before his death, Craig realizes that he can seemingly communicate with his friend beyond the grave – with deadly consequences.
In all honesty, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is far from King’s best work. It’s an interesting story, but not an obvious choice for a movie adaptation (aside from the fact that it’s about the perfect length). Netflix’s adaptation makes this all too clear: it’s a faithful representation of King’s story – even down to much of the dialogue being lifted straight from the novella – but there’s just no real depth to it beyond that already in the written story. Visually representing the characters and their story does nothing to enhance the experience, and therefore the film is ultimately pointless for those who have read the original novella.
One of the biggest issues with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is that despite being classified as a horror movie, there’s no real horror to be found. Its premise implies a vaguely horrifying existential question, but there’s no suspense, no thrills, no jump scares, and no gore. The only genuine tie to the horror genre is the supernatural implication, and even that is shrouded in a sense of ambiguity.
It’s a well-acted film, led by excellent performances from Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland. Both characters have a rich depth to them that makes Mr. Harrigan’s Phone as engaging as possible, with the film feeling far more character-driven than its premise should plausibly allow for. It’s a film made with a competence that doesn’t match its ambition: it’s one of the most unimaginative adaptations to date, adding nothing whatsoever to the source material, but even so, it’s polished and generally well-presented.
Ultimately, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone isn’t bad, it’s just dull. It doesn’t belong in the horror genre, because it feels something like a thriller with no actual thrills, and that’s perhaps an indication of how pointless a film it truly is. As far as Stephen King movies go, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is among the worst – not because it’s a bad film, but because it serves no real purpose and is more likely to put you to sleep than to evoke the bone-chilling terror associated with the author.
Summary: Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is one of the worst kind of adaptations: an uninteresting one. It’s a dull and generic retelling of Stephen King’s story that lacks any real atmosphere despite a solid effort form its talented cast.
Highlights: Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland’s awkwardly poised chemistry – it speaks to their respective acting talent and serves as the emotional backbone of the entire film.