Released: 5th October
Seen: 5th October
Considering how ubiquitous they are now, it’s kind of fascinating to realise that the modern cell phone is actually not that old. The first smartphone hit the market back in 1994 and was a technical revolution, soon going from a plaything of the wealthy to something that you literally cannot exist without in the modern world. We now exist with the entire history of human knowledge on an electronic device that fits right in our pocket, it’s nothing short of a miracle device. Of course, as happens to all technologies that become popular, the cell phone is a prime tool to be used in fiction and if there’s anyone who is good at taking mundane everyday objects and making them terrifying, it’s Stephen King… usually, with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone there’s nothing actually terrifying going on.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, based on the novella of the same name, follows Craig (Jaeden Martell) who is somewhat of a loner. He doesn’t have that many hobbies or friends, instead choosing to befriend the elderly Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland) who he spends time with. He learns about the stock market, business and other such things and in return, he reads to Mr. Harrigan to keep him company. One of the things that Craig does is buy Mr. Harrigan a cell phone, trying to help the man keep up with modern technology and make it so he can keep in contact with Mr. Harrigan if he needs to. Anyway, shortly after that, Mr. Harrigan dies.
Craig goes to Mr. Harrigan’s funeral and while there is told he received an inheritance from Mr. Harrigan to help pay for his eventual college trip. All seems to be going normally until Craig starts getting strange texts seemingly from Mr. Harrigan’s phone, and then the strange phone calls that he sometimes returns to tell Mr. Harrigan’s voicemail about a bully he doesn’t like. Eventually something bad happens to the bully and it’s super scary, I swear… anyway that’s the plot, I guess, it’s kinda dull.
Well OK the plot itself isn’t dull, there’s actually a half-decent idea here that would’ve been genuinely terrifying back in 2010 when we were just starting to learn about what smartphones could do. In practice, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is basically a mix of Jaeden Martell giving a boring lesson on how to use a cell phone while a half-hearted ghost story is told just on the edge of the frame. That’s pretty much the entire film, all told with overwritten uninteresting narration telling us things that a half decent film would’ve shown us.
By the time Mr. Harrigan’s Phone actually gets to the ghost story (AKA, the main element of the concept), the film has bored the audience so much that it would take a miracle to get them back and there are no miracles about to be performed here. The actual scares are barely there, the ghost doesn’t even really do anything that intense or interesting and there is zero tension to be found, despite the score adamant that there is something happening at some points. It certainly plays the same familiar refrains of scary movies, with attempted jump scares and all that but it’s so toothless that none of these actually end up working.
What hurts is that on a technical level, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is mostly fine. Sure there are a few odd choices for shots here and there but for the most part, you can tell what’s going on. The performances are pretty much universally fine, the two leads have decent enough chemistry to work and the supporting cast doesn’t totally suck. It’s not anything fantastic but it’s good enough that if they could just get the story right then this should work, but they don’t. When it’s a film like this, you don’t need to have the most elaborate cinematography as long as you can build tension, put a sense of eeriness into things but they didn’t want to take any risks with the material and the cost is they made a dull film.
Really, that could just be the entire review right there. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is dull, that’s it. There’s no real excitement, nothing fun is done with the idea and there is nothing about it that’s memorable. Sure it’s a nice change of pace for a Netflix film to just be forgettable instead of downright hateful but that’s not much of an improvement. Everything about this should have worked, this should be an easy way to use a piece of modern technology in order to terrify an unsuspecting audience but unless you’re scared of taking a nap, this film isn’t going to be scaring you that much.