In the latest film adaptation of one of his works, Stephen King once again demonstrates an uncanny talent for drawing suspense from the most unlikely of sources. In this case is technology, especially cell phones, one of which appears as a means of communication between the living and the dead. Unfortunately, despite its compelling premise, Mr. Harrigan doesn’t have the ingredients needed to make it truly memorable; just not too scary.
Based on the novel from the King’s 2020 collection If It Bleeds, the Netflix premiere takes place in the seemingly picturesque small New England town that has provided the backdrop for so much of his work. In the prologue, set in 2003, we meet a boy, Craig (Colin O’Brien), who was raised alone by his loving and working-class father (Joe Tippett) after the death of his mother. Soon after, inmate Mr. Harrigan (Donald Sutherland), the richest man in town, is impressed after Craig gives a Bible reading at church. She offers $5 an hour to come into his stately home and read him books, including kid-friendly titles like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Heart of Darkness.
A few years later, when the now-teen Craig (Jaden Martell, a veteran of the previous King It adaptation and its sequels) and his older employer have developed a friendly if not downright friendly relationship. Mr Harrigan even regularly gave him his standard prize, a lottery ticket, one of which turned out to be a $3,000 winner. A grateful Craig, in turn, gave Mr. Harrigan an iPhone, which Luddite found uninteresting. But when Craig demonstrated that the tool could provide up-to-date stock reports, the billionaire investor became an instant convert. They even shared a song, Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” whose title ended up having ominous connotations.
Mr. Harrigan had the foresight to recognize the potential dangers of an unhindered Internet. Among other things, he gave a lengthy speech about the potentially damaging effects of media and politics, which seemed incredibly prophetic (but written on the back, of course). It’s fair to say that this is the theme that inspired King to write the story in the first place, with elements of horror included to make it narratively enjoyable.
The problem is that the subsequent plot development, which was meant to be gruesome, wasn’t portrayed in a sufficiently terrifying way by director/writer John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side). Mr Harrigan died suddenly, leaving Craig a huge sum of money to educate him and pursue his dream of becoming a screenwriter (you don’t have to imagine what Mr Harrigan thought about this idea). As a final sign of their friendship, the grateful young man quietly placed his employer’s phone in the coffin containing his corpse.
As is sometimes done with a friend or loved one who has died, Craig impulsively called Mr. Harrigan and left messages to him in times of need, such as when he fell victim to an evil bully (Cyrus Arnold) at school. When she starts getting text messages back and the bully is soon found mysteriously dead, she worries that her former employer might maliciously help her from the grave.
The latest horror hit The Black Phone promotes a similar idea, but in a much more gruesome way. Hancock doesn’t seem too keen on refining the concept for its gruesome aspects, which frankly doesn’t develop well in King’s novella either. Instead, the film appears primarily to be a thoughtful portrait of an unlikely friendship and a story of maturity where a young man learns the dangers of getting what he wants.
The film still has some impact, with Sutherland using his veteran skills to recreate Mr. The humble Harrigan as a character from the Dickens and Martell novels, made his way into films like St. Vincent, Midnight Special and The Book of Henry are deeply concerned about their sensitive and troubled teenager. This is a rare adaptation of King that proves to be less interesting as the story gets more and more gruesome.