Mr. Harrigan’s Phone was promoted by Netflix as a pre-Halloween horror flick. That is but one of the various issues with this Stephen King adaptation.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone Synopsis
Young Craig is hired by recluse billionaire Harrigan to read novels to him. Rather than find the job a bore, Craig cherishes his time with the much older man, soon even developing a deep bond. After winning the lottery with a ticket gifted to him by Harrigan, Craig buys an iPhone for the billionaire, subsequently also teaching him all the modern ways to reconnect with the world. When Harrigan unexpectedly dies of illness, Craig is heartbroken and devastated. Little does he know, though, that his earlier gift perpetuated his connection with the billionaire. The stern Harrigan continues to be with Craig, as a supernatural defender.
A couple of years ago, I left a brash message in a Stephen King fans Google+ group. (Remember Google+?)
In short, I declared that the King of Horror is at his best when he’s NOT writing horror stories. To support my claim, I highlighted how many of the best King movies have little to no horror elements. For example, Shawshank, Stand by Me, The Green Mile (apart from that execution scene …)
The unexpected then happened. No one took great offense, some fans even agreed with me. There were, of course, a handful who suggested I might be too harsh; many King horror classics are memorable for their unforgiving insights into humanity, not so much supernatural terror. But in general, even die-hard fans agree that King knows how to write a poignant non-horror tale when he wants to.
Hang on, I’m ranting, am I not? What I’m trying to say is, any Stephen King movie adaptation featuring a coming-of-age premise is, for me, something to look forward to. With or without horror elements. Because of that, I streamed Mr. Harrigan’s Phone the moment I saw the trailer.
As a whole, I’d say the show somewhat delivers, at least half of it. Though subdued in presentation during the first half, the unusual dynamics between teenage Craig and an elderly Harrigan effortlessly fascinate. Everything begins on a foreboding note but quickly, the interactions reflect an endearing, student-mentor-like relationship. One that unexpectedly fills up the melancholic gaps in the teen’s life.
Worth noting is also how the relationship stays wholesome; there’s no dark apprenticeship here the likes of that in Apt Pupil. Quietly menacing as he is throughout, Donald Sutherland’s Harrigan neither lures nor baits his student into evil. In fact, he plays no more than a counsellor’s role, one quietly devoted to the teen’s welfare.
Which then, after an hour, leads you to wonder when the horror, the action would step in. Well, they do come, not long after a truly hysterical and cynical lament of smartphone addiction. The problem though, nothing generates genuine tension or fear. Worse, the increasingly mawkish allegories for smartphone reliance become unbearable before long. By the conclusion, you even begin to wonder just what is the main point of the story.
Here’s the thing too. I haven’t read the original text but from what I found online, this adaptation is faithful to King’s story. There are no major changes.
Having read a good number of King’s books in the past, I dare say the original story would be satisfying in several ways.
So what went wrong here? False expectations established by Netflix’s sinister trailer for the movie? The ominous presentation of Harrigan in the show? The King of Horror has lost his touch?
I think it’s more likely a case of irresolvable differences during genre translation. Wait, not genre, medium translation.
Difficulty in translation from print to movie, and an overzealous effort to diss modern addictions.
Check out my other snappy movie reviews.