Mr. Harrigan’s Phone Is A Morality Tale More Than Horror

Mr. Harrigan's phone image of Craig (Jaeden Martell) showing Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) an Iphone

Thanks to the directing, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone starts as a creepy film but lacks the follow-through to its horror elements or coming-of-age tale. 

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone from Netflix, directed and written by John Lee Hancock, stars Jaeden Martell and Donald Sutherland in this small-town horror film. Based on a Stephen King short story, Craig (Jaeden Martell) works for Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland), but when Mr. Harrigan passes, Craig gets a text from him. There is not enough horror here despite tense scenes and moments of uncertainty. Thanks to the directing, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone starts as a creepy film but lacks the follow-through to its horror elements or coming-of-age tale. 

The story occurs in King’s beloved (or hated) Maine starting in 2003. Mr. Harrigan hires Craig after Craig’s mother passes away to read books to him. These books are no easy reads—Heart of Darkness—is a heavy read and even heavier subject. Before long, Craig is a teenager starting high school. Craig narrates the story from some undisclosed time in the future after everyone dies.

If you expect a bigger body count, that is not Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. Instead, the film focuses on their friendship and Craig’s inability to let go. Then, after gifting Mr. Harrigan an iPhone so they can message each other, Mr. Harrigan passes away. While at the church, Craig, being the last to approach the coffin, puts Mr. Harrigan’s phone in his pocket. 

Though Their Relationship Is Sweet, Solo They Are Flat

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. (L-R) Jaeden Martell as Craig places a phone in  Mr. Harrigan's (Donald Sutherland) jacket as he lies in a coffin.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. (L-R) Jaeden Martell as Craig and Donald Sutherland as Mr. Harrigan in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2022.

Despite Mr. Harrigan’s wealth, he gifts Craig with a Red Devil scratch-off lottery tickets every year on special occasions like holidays. So it is hard to feel endeared toward a rich penny-pincher. Also, Mr. Harrigan’s decree that Craig “demands” what he wants in life has ominous meaning beyond the film, given how many white men feel entitled to demand time and attention. Although Mr. Harrigan has no significant traits that separate him from other old film characters, I always enjoy stories where young kids and older crotchety adults become friends.

On the other hand, Craig’s character feels flat despite being the lead. He is not fleshed out; no relationship feels meaningful besides his connection to Mr. Harrigan. Perhaps Craig has difficulty conveying emotion given his mother’s death at a young age. But by the end, there is no significant difference in Craig, save a few more casualties. His relationship with his dad feels unchanged throughout; his classmates appear decorative in each scene. Given the direction, I thought the girl in the friend group would wind up as more but she does not. It is all shallow surface details with no purpose.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone Needs Something New, Not Something Old

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. (L-R) Jaeden Martell as Craig pressed against the lockers as Cyrus Arnold as Kenny Yankovich leans over him.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. (L-R) Jaeden Martell as Craig and Cyrus Arnold as Kenny Yankovich in Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2022.

His teacher, Ms. Hart (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), is rarely seen for all the impact Craig professes she has on his life. Craig’s only other significant relationship—still shallow—is with bully Kenny Yankovich (Cyrus Arnold).  Kenny Yankovich is as one-dimensional as the rest. His psychological problems get mentioned briefly later, and that’s it. The actor, Cyrus Arnold, does an excellent job conveying hidden waters with his expressions and delivery. A shame Mr. Harrigan’s Phone did not explore that. The film’s tired tropes—the bully with mental health issues that is an outcast, the Black person who references familial quotes about the supernatural, drag the movie down. The cast is not the issue, the lack of character development is the problem.

Horror In The Barely There Sense

Mr. Harrigan's Phone image of Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) sitting i a chair, holding a cane.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. Donald Sutherland as Mr. Harrigan. Courtesy of Netflix.

The supernatural elements are scarce to the point that it is challenging to call this horror. The story feels more like a modernized Aesop’s Fables of “be careful what you wish for.” No mysterious deaths occur onscreen; the audience only sees the aftermath and Craig’s reaction to the news. The tension is excellent but with the lack of scares and seeing this through a narrating Craig, the film feels like a bait and switch, luring with the promise of horror but delivering a morality tale that winds up muddled. 

I could watch this film again, but I am a fan of the relationship between Craig and Mr. Harrigan and actor Donald Sutherland. If horror is what you are looking for, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is a letdown filled with the bare minimum to get the horror label. While I do not mind shallow characters as long as the focus is horror, both are nonexistent in this film. If some horror took place onscreen, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone might have terrified more. But it is as chilling as a telemarketer ringing your phone. 

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