Stephen King‘s novels are a match made in Heaven for most filmmakers, and his short story “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” (from his novella collection titled “It Bleeds”) is another solid, if a bit thin, big screen adaptation from writer /director John Lee Hancock. It’s a coming-of-age tale of friendship, loyalty, morality and revenge that deals with the everyday as well as the supernatural.
Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) is an 80-year-old reclusive billionaire who hires local kid Craig (Colin O’Brien) to read to him three times a week after the death of the boy’s mother. The pair meet and discuss great works of literature for years, becoming friends and bonding over their love of books. This relationship grows and the story continues with Craig (Jaeden Martell) as a teenager, dealing with bullying and other problems typical of adolescence.
As a gift, Craig buys Mr. Harrigan his very own iPhone so they can keep in touch. The elderly man dies soon after, and Craig slips the man’s old phone into his suit pocket at the funeral before the coffin is shut. Later that day, Craig and his dad (Joe Tippett) are informed that Mr. Harrigan left the boy $800,000 in a trust fun to aid in his quest to attend college and become a writer. Overcome by the gesture, Craig dials the old man’s iPhone to leave a message of thanks. The next morning, he wakes up and sees that he has received a cryptic return text message from the deceased man’s phone.
To reveal much more would spoil the movie, and the best experience would be knowing as little as possible about the story. There are strong supernatural elements at play, but the tone is more ominous and creepy than standardized, jump scare horror. There is a moral texture to the story that is thoughtful and engaging, as is the very real idea that one regret or calculated mistake could lead to a person being haunted for the rest of their life.
The film has an unpredictable and dramatic tonal shift, starting as a story about a friendship that transcends age, income, and social status and growing more volatile and sinister. It’s when a series of unexplained events begin to occur that the story turns dark, as these incidents may not just be a string of eerie coincidences.
The script was based on a short story and feels like it, mostly because the film seems too vague. It’s open-ended and offers no resolution, which is frustrating as a viewer. But there’s enough about “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” including two great lead performances from Martell and Sutherland, to make it a compelling King adaptation.
By: Louisa Moore