In the latest film adaptation of one of his works, Stephen King once again demonstrates his uncanny knack for extracting tension from unlikely sources. In this case, it’s technology, specifically cell phones, that prove to be a means of communication between the living and the dead. Unfortunately, despite its intriguing premise, Mr. Harrigan’s phone Lacking the necessary ingredient to make it truly memorable; It’s simply not that scary.
Based on a novel from the King’s 2020 collection If it bleeds, a film premiering on Netflix, takes place in the seemingly idyllic, small New England town that has provided the backdrop for so many of his works. In the prologue set in 2003, we’re introduced to a young boy, Craig (Colin O’Brien), raised alone by his loving, working-class father (Joe Tippett) after his mother dies. Sometime later, after giving a Bible reading at a church, Craig is impressed by the town’s richest man, Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland). He pays $5 an hour to come to his grand mansion to read books aloud, including titles that aren’t kid-friendly. Lady Chatterley’s lover And Heart of Darkness.
Several years later, the now-teenager Craig (Jaden Martell, a veteran of previous King adaptations) This is and its sequel) and his elderly employer have developed a friendly, if not exactly warm, bond. Mr. Harrigan routinely gives them the standard gift of a lottery ticket, one of which is a $3,000 winner. A grateful Craig in return gives Mr. Harrigan an iPhone, which the confirmed Luddite professes to have no interest in. But when Craig demonstrated that the device could provide up-to-the-moment stock reports, the billionaire investor was a quick convert. They even share a ringtone, Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” a title that finally takes on a weirder meaning.
Mr. Harrigan has the foresight to see the potential dangers of an unregulated internet. He gives a long speech about the media and its potentially harmful effects on politics, among other things, which seem oddly prescient (but, of course, written with the benefit of hindsight). You could say that’s what inspired King to write the story in the first place, with elements of horror brought into the narrative to make it palatable.
The problem is that later plot developments, intended to be shocking, are not rendered in a sufficiently chilling fashion by director/screenwriter John Lee Hancock (invisible face) Mr. Harrigan dies suddenly, leaving Craig a substantial sum of money to get an education and pursue his dream of becoming a screenwriter (you don’t have to guess what Mr. Harrigan was thinking That is imagination). A grateful young man secretly places his employer’s phone in a box with his body, as a final symbol of their friendship.
Sometimes related to a departed friend or loved one, Craig suddenly becomes Mr. Harrigan calls his phone and sends him messages in sad moments, such as when he falls victim to a creepy bully (Cyrus Arnold) at school. When he starts receiving text messages in reply and the bully mysteriously dies he soon becomes alarmed that his former employer is helping him in a malevolent way from beyond the grave.
The latest horror movie hit Black phone Trafficked in similar ideas, but in a more terrifying fashion. Hancock doesn’t seem too interested in mining the concept for its chilling elements, which, to be fair, aren’t particularly well developed in King’s novella. Instead, the film mainly comes across as a thoughtful portrait of an unlikely friendship and a coming-of-age story in which a young man learns the dangers of getting what you want.
The film still has some influence, as Sutherland brings his veteran skills to life as the character from the Dickens novel, Mr. Saint Vincent, Midnight specialAnd The Book of Henry, makes us really care about his sensitive, troubled adolescence. It’s a rare King adaptation that makes the story less interesting as it becomes more terrifying.
Production Companies: Blumhouse Productions, Ryan Murphy Productions
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Jaden Martell, Joe Tippett, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Cyrus Arnold, Colin O’Brien, Thomas Francis Murphy, Peggy J. Scott
Director-Screenwriter: John Lee Hancock
Producers: Ryan Murphy, Jason Blum, Carla Hacken
Executive Producers: Stephen King, Amy Sayres, Chris McCumber, Jeremy Gold, Scott Greenberg, Alexis Woodhall, Eric Kovtun, Scott Robertson
Director of Photography: John Schwartzman
Production Designer: Michael Korenblith
Editor: Robert Franzen
Costume Designer: Daniel Orlandi
Composer: Javier Navarrete
Casting: Terry Taylor, Sarah Domier Lindow
Rated PG-13, 1 hour 44 minutes