Director: John Lee Hancock
Writer: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Jaeden Martell, Donald Sutherland, Kirby Hopwell-Baptiste, Joe Tippett, Cyrus Arnold
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, written and directed by John Lee Hancock, is an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story of the same name from his 2020 collection If It Bleeds. Jaeden Martell stars as Craig, a teenager who starts to work for Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland), reading him books now that his eyesight is failing him. This is Martell’s second appearance in a Stephen King adaptation, as he previous starred in the 2017/2019 adaptations of It.
This adaptation sticks pretty closely to the source material, showing Craig and Mr. Harrigan bonding first over the classics books they read, and then through the iPhone that Craig buys Mr. Harrigan, allowing him to keep up to date with the stock market. When Mr. Harrigan dies of heart disease he leaves a small fortune to Craig, allowing him the opportunity to follow his dream. Out of grief Craig still sends texts and leaves voicemails for his old friend, telling him about a bully at school. When the bully ends up dead, Craig starts to wonder if it’s Mr. Harrigan’s doing.
It’s hard to really pinpoint the genre of this story, it’s a drama with supernatural/horror elements without it ever coming close to being scary. The first half of the film is a drama about Craig reading for Mr Harrigan and taking life lessons from the reclusive millionaire. Like in the short story, this side of the story is a lot better than when the supernatural part takes hold. Donald Sutherland is really great as Mr. Harrigan and he works well with Jaeden Martell. There’s a good friendship between them.
What really lets the film down is the cheapness of it all. It feels like something made for TV, which is just a shame. A lot of the acting, mainly from the side-characters, is wobbly at best, the score is too intrusive. Once the main plot gets going it’s a little all over the place. It’s not scary or even creepy, even though it seems like Mr. Harrigan can receive voicemail from beyond the grave. It leans into Craig’s guilt over the bully dying, but it all seems to be quite rushed in the end and there’s not a good resolution to that thread.
Overall, as with most adaptations, the short story is better. It’s a faithful adaptation, with a great performance from Donald Sutherland, but it doesn’t capture the same magic in the relationship between the characters. The weak ending is also more noticeable in the film, which is a shame. It’s still good to see one of King’s best stories of recent years come to life on screen.
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