Though based on a Stephen King novel, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” shies away from the reputed author’s traditional horror and instead errs on the side of a charming coming-of-age short story. The film is inspired by King’s book “If It Bleeds,” a collection of four previously unpublished novellas. While the film is seemingly simple in its small cast of characters, it offers trenchant social critiques of the gamut of topics it grapples with, including phone addiction and revenge.
The film follows Craig (Jaeden Martell) as he builds a relationship with business billionaire Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) and eventually remains in contact with Mr. Harrigan even beyond death through an iPhone. Craig is first employed by Mr. Harrington at a young age and reads to him weekly for over 10 years. In turn, the relationship between Craig and Mr. Harrington develops into a close friendship, as both find each other as a comforting, consistent part of their lives to discuss values and novels. Once the first iPhone comes out, Craig buys one for Mr. Harrington as a gift to connect him to technology. Martell, a familiar face in films based on Stephen King novels, is the main focus of the movie, as he grapples with growing up in a world without his late mother, and transitioning into high school life.
With all the different emotions and scenes Craig must be a part of, Martell carries the film in both his delivery and execution of emotion. Most stirring in scenes of torment and sadness, Martell’s performance is captivating — turning an unremarkable movie into an engaging one. The film, with its intense focus on death and grieving a loved one, requires a dynamic array of presences on screen. Martell takes advantage of this, and his performance captivates viewers through each intense scene Craig is involved in. This is seen most clearly when Craig’s revenge causes a cascade of strong feelings of regret and a need to atone for his actions. Through his strained facial expressions and convincing pained countenance, Martell’s acting is vital in enriching the film.
Where the film starts to lose momentum is in the events after Hr. Harrington passes away. Craig, who has been repeatedly bullied, asks the “ghost” of Mr. Harrington, to help him gain revenge on his oppressor. What results is a series of events reminiscent of the famous manga “Death Note,” where Craig asks Mr. Harrington for “help” to take care of people that have done something wrong, essentially wishing for the deaths of these individuals. While this could be seen as an indication of an area of reflection and learning from Craig, there is no actual conclusion to this theme. The film, in turn, leaves watchers feeling unresolved and unsatisfied at the end. Thus, the film disappoints in effectively executing its seemingly biggest takeaway: capitalize for revenge is destructive if left unchecked.
Moreover, the film similarly fails at conveying an effective message about modern cell phones — seemingly the basis of the movie. In an attempt to display the dangers of phone addiction, “Mr. Harrington’s Phone displays dialogue and commentary that are a little too on-the-nose. For instance, once Mr. Harrington receives his first cell phone, he immediately becomes addicted to the device and just happens to predict the eventual monopoly of phones on everyday life, including advertisements and social media. Despite Mr. Harrington not being able to actually know the future, the film inserts this to make an ineffective point on the dangers of cell phones. What is left is a motif about the consuming power of technology diluted in overly-simplified dialogue and overused examples.
Despite its flaws, the film’s overall story charms in its depiction of generational intersections. Even though the film orbits around the cell phone as a symbolic object, the bond between generations is built on shared values and experiences, seen in Craig becoming Mr. Harrington’s best friend after reaching out to him every week for years. Therefore, the film’s messaging is able to surpass some of the flaws in dialogue and messaging that hinders its effectiveness. Though the film is not the best of those reflected from King’s novels, the movie has promise that should not be overlooked by King fans and other viewers alike.