in ,

Mr Harrigan’s Phone


‘…Mr Harrigan’s Phone is a Stephen King adaptation that tends more towards the life-lessons of Stand by Me than the grandstanding ghost-train ride of IT…’

“I think our phones are how we are wedded to the world. If so, it’s probably a bad marriage.” Despite the punchy, crowd-pleasingly sinister trailer, Mr Harrigan’s Phone is a Stephen King adaptation that tends more towards the life-lessons of Stand by Me than the grandstanding ghost-train ride of IT; it’s a more gentle proposition than the hard-edged horror you might expect. That’s no bad thing; although we tend to characterise King as a master of the macabre, not all of his writings are intended to be potential blockbusters, and John Lee Hancock’s film from streaming giant Netflix recalls the unadorned pleasures of King’s short stories.

The source is a novella from the If It Bleeds collection, four previously unseen stories published in 2020. The Mr Harrigan of the title is an elderly man, played with great presence by Donald Sutherland. Harrigan is a rich man, a lonely billionaire, but his eyes are failing and he arranges for regular reading sessions with a local boy Craig (Jaeden Martell) who has just lost his mother. The two strike up an unlikely bond over new technology but when Mr Harrigan dies, Craig slips an iPhone into the old man’s casket, and not long after, his phone starts receiving messages that might just be from Mr Harrigan….

With Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum amongst the producers, you might expect Mr Harrigan’s Phone to use King’s story as a jumping–off point to fashion a more elaborate narrative; despite what the trailer promises, and strong supernatural themes, there’s actually very little in Craig’s story that couldn’t be rationally explained away through coincidence and bad luck. Interesting ideas, like the Devilish lotto cards that Craig plays, are introduced but not developed. But the author’s message is clear when it comes to technology and phones in particular; they’re a Pandora’s box that we open at our peril. One of the film’s best moments comes as Craig completes his reading Crime and Punishment to his literature-loving benefactor, and looks up only to discover that Mr Harrigan is too busy playing with his new phone to listen; that’s horror of a more philosophical kind.

Martell was one of the strikingly effective cast of IT, Sutherland’s genre credentials go back even further than Kings’, and Hancock’s film works best when the two of them are working together on the familiar, Dickensian mentor relationship seen in the rather more radical Apt Pupil. But despite the usual school bullies being lightly sketched in, and a weak ending that delivers a civics lecture rather than a drama, Mr Harrigan’s Phone plays out a timely and mature rumination of how technology, and the internet in particular, has played a major role in turning us against each other, and it makes a point that should resonate with budding Luddities everywhere.


Leave a Reply
  1. The distrust harks back to early 20th c IMO, with wholesale use of propaganda… InUS, for example, there were several radio (fake news) scandals, patent trust suits…to try to curb the manipulation-Fed radio comm act, 1927, Congress increased gov regulatory powers, which was replaced by FCC in 1934… gold age till 1950 when marketeers and lobbyists took over airwaves…adverts like broma seltzer (sodium bromide class of tranquilizers, withdrawn 1975 due to toxicity) and other harmful products were allowed. Promoters cried cigarettes aren’t bad-don’t let Gov tell you what to do…Soap operas in 1930s hooked / distracted women; War of Worlds broadcast 10/30/38 tested public gullibility as did other stunts. Quiz shows 1939 scandal, sponsor Mars candy— Major source of WWll propaganda, the corps that backed Hitler, IBM, Booz Allen…It infests everything, unless you’re aware, skeptical, diligent, doubting… okay, I’m ranting. Needful Things is a great example!

    • Yup, I’m polishing some Needful Things prose for my review; I do think it’s an underrated text. Not sure if you’re back at the cinema yet, but Amsterdam’s 1930’s setting is rich in this kind of idea; that the sinister machinations that we’re going through right now have all happened before, and can be more easily spotted and seen from today’s vantage point. That film nails corporate sponsorship to corruption to not being able to trust your own opinions, and its not far off the mark for where we are now. I dug how, in this Netflix outing for Mr Hannigan, the old man immediately recognises the potential dangers of the iphone, as a device that can erase and reboot the past in an Orwellian way, and put a price on the truth. Don’t believe the hype, and in fact, don’t believe anything unless you’ve got it from several reputable sources; that’s the journalist in me talking!

  2. I saw that ‘…just might be from Mr Hannigan.’ You never know; one of my ancestors communicates thru Tarot cards; another thru coincidences of 3 occurring over 1 day. A cell phone is definitely not how I’m wedded…don’t own one (nor land line) though I have borrowed one now and then. Bravo to Craig for ditching his. Book Stooge makes an interesting point, one I wondered about…how can he read small print cell phone? I concluded his eyes weren’t that bad-he connected with the orphaned lad and enjoyed the company of innocence. I was lucky to be read to before I could figure out meaning of word symbols. The Internet, as I commented to Walkingoffthechessboard, is our modern day campfire. Then again it could be more like Plato’s cave allegory, he thought we were all staring at the wall while reality unfolded behind us. Except that RE Internet and phones, our backs seem to be against each other rather than huddled round a campfire? Enjoyed how you ended critique, saying film felt like a rumination on IT in isolating folks. The Net is so many things, lifeline, beast, gobbler of time, and university if we’re diligent. I think King was showing how anyone could succumb to its devilish aspects or impose their will (or magic) by using diligent intent. That’s the really scary aspect of the story!

    • Yup, and I appreciated the restraint shown by film-makers here in staying true to the intent of the King’s idea. There’s a refernce to a ‘ghost in the machine’ here, and that’s kind of right; we don’t know where our internet addiction is taking us, but if we imagine that the internet hits big in 2000, then the last twenty years have been a lot worse than the twenty before in terms of almost everything. Have we inadvertantly triggered some kind of entropy? The film goes further in suggesting that the net reflects our negative feelings towards each other, kind of functioning like the shop in Needful Things, setting neighbour against neighbour. Back in the day, I thought that the net might connect us all in a positive way, and that sure does happen sometimes; I wouldn’t write a blog otherwise. But as we sail ever closer to global meltdown, it’s clear that our connectivity is binding us up rather than setting us free. If the story is a little weak for a feature, at least it stays true to the idea of distrust tearing us apart…

  3. So he can’t read a book but he can see his phone? I call shenanigans. Because an ereader would have solved his problem and not involved pesky other people. And phones die after like 2 days now. It’s pathetic. I remember when my flip phone would last me a week! and I only used it to make calls. BECAUSE IT IS A PHONE!

    and get off of my lawn too.

    • Wasn’t Ned Ludd the man who claimed that spending less than three hours a day on the socials was key to a happy life?

      • That sounds like him, before he got promoted to General Ludd and tried to make it as an influencer.

        Back to young Mr. Pattinson and his three-hour slog through the grimy streets of Gotham. I’ve got to find an authoritative film site that will steer me away from these flicks . . .

        • Yup, I follow the Luddite Twitter group on What’s App, they have the best memes!

          I’m pretty sure that I was not the only champion of the Batman movie, it’s pretty good and shows off Glasgow to good advantage. FaCt!

          • I saw you in one of the outtakes included in the DVD. Matt Reeves was yelling at you to just keep walking and not stare at the camera. But you sort of ruined the shot. He says later that it’s just one of the things you have to put up with shooting in Glazgo.

            Does Mr. Harrigan send dick pics from the grave?

            • Mr Harriman does not, but I’m impressed he even gets cell service. I’d imagine the beyond the grave tariff is pretty steep, so he’s probably limited to emojis.

              I think Reeves was concerned that I’d put RPatz in the shade in terms of looks, that would explain this altercation.

Leave a Reply