Mr Harrigan's Phone (2022) poster

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (2022)


USA. 2022.


Director/Screenplay – John Lee Hancock, Based on the Short Story by Stephen King, Producers – Jason Blum, Carla Hacken & Ryan Murphy, Photography – John Schwartzman, Music – Javier Navarrete, Visual Effects – Crafty Apes (Supervisor – Gabriel Sanchez) & Moving Target (Supervisor – Alan Munro), Special Effects Supervisor – Drew Jiritano, Production Design – Michael Corenblith. Production Company – Blumhouse/Ryan Murphy Productions.


Jaeden Martell (Craig Poole), Donald Sutherland (John Harrigan), Joe Tippett (Craig’s Dad), Colin O’Brien (Young Craig), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Victoria Hart), Cyrus Arnold (Kenny Yankovich), Peggy J. Scott (Edna Grogan), Frank Ridley (Reverend Mooney), Randy Kovitz (Chick Lafferty), Thalia Torio (Regina), Conor William Wright (U-Boat), Alexa Shae Niziak (Margie), Daniel Reece (Deane Whitmore), Joseph Taylor (Julian Summers), Chelsea Kurtz (Joanna Mom)


2003 in the town of Harlow, Maine. Young Craig Poole is raised by his father following the death of his mother. He is hired by John Harrigan, an aging billionaire, to come and read to him three times a week for five dollars a session. Over the years, Craig develops an affection for Mr Harrigan. For Christmas, Craig’s father buys him an iPhone. Four times a year, Mr Harrigan sends Craig scratch lotto tickets. When one of these wins three thousand dollars, Craig buys Mr Harrigan the gift of an iPhone. After initial scepticism, Mr Harrigan becomes an avid user. One day, Craig comes to read, only to find Mr Harrigan dead. The funeral is duly held during which Craig tucks Mr Harrigan’s phone into the pocket of his suit in the coffin. Afterwards, dealing with bullies and tragedies, Craig calls Mr Harrigan’s phone to tell him the frustrations and upsets – only to receive cryptic text messages back. He then finds that the people causing the problems are being killed.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone is adapted from a novella by Stephen King that appears in the If It Bleeds (2020) collection. The film version comes produced by Ryan Murphy, the creator/producer of some of the top tv series since the 2000s, including the likes of Nip/Tuck (2003-10), Glee (2009-15), American Crime Story (2016- ), Pose (2016-21), Feud (2017- ), Hollywood (2020) and Ratched (2020). Murphy has dabbled in genre material on a number of occasions with the ongoing hit of the tv series American Horror Story (2011- ) and its spinoff anthology series American Horror Stories (2021- ), as well as Scream Queens (2015-6), and the miniseries’ The Watcher (2022) and Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (2022). In addition, Murphy has also produced the horror film The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014). Murphy co-produces with Blumhouse (see below).

The film is directed and written by John Lee Hancock who has an estimable career as a director with the non-genre likes of The Rookie (2002), The Alamo (2004), The Blind Side (2009), The Founder (2016) and The Highwaymen (2019). Hancock had previously ventured into genre material with the biopic Saving Mr. Banks (2013) about Mary Poppins creator P.L. Travers and Walt Disney and the serial killer thriller The Little Things (2021). Prior to that, Hancock had written the screenplays for Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World (1993) and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997), as well as for Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).

Coincidentally, this is the second Blumhouse film from the King family about phone calls from the dead that one has ended up watching within the space of twelve months after Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone (2021) adapted from a story by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill. Also on the theme of text messages from beyond the grave, there was the really crappy Paranormal Extremes: Text Messages from the Dead (2015) from Z-budget filmmaker Ted V. Mikles and Selfie from Hell (2018). In a similar vein, we have also had Unfriended (2014) and Friend Request (2016) with dead people suddenly appearing on social media and Hellphone (2007) about a demonic cellphone that enacts its user’s wishes.

Donald Sutherland as John Harrigan in Mr Harrigan's Phone (2022)
Donald Sutherland as the aging John Harrigan

John Lee Hancock makes a very nice film. It takes place in the genteel, wistful smalltown Maine environment that turns up in all of Stephen King’s writing. Indeed, there is not too much in the first half that makes Mr. Harrigan’s Phone different from a standard Coming of Age story. The best parts of the film are the development of the relationship between young Jaeden Martell, who previously appeared as the young Bill Denborough in the film version of Stephen King’s It (2017), and the aging Donald Sutherland.

These sections offer a nicely tuned variant on the Coming of Age standard of the young teenager with ambitions receiving life lessons from the old man, while at the same time as causing the old man to change his ingrained ways. The scenes with Donald Sutherland learning the use of his iPhone have a certain charm, if not chill. The only thing that feels out of place here is where Hancock has to boilerplate on a prediction made by Harrigan about the current state of the internet, which seems to hammer home a little too obvious an anti-internet, anti-social media message.

Where the film works less effectively is in that John Lee Hancock seems to have been too faithful to the Stephen King story. King’s writing has a cosy enjoyability where much of its effect is derived from King’s turn of phrase and wry humour. His plotting can also be fairly predictable in the sense that he rarely explores truly new ground and sometimes settles for deus ex machina solutions. You can see how everything here would have worked as a succinct shorter work.

Jaeden Martell receives text messages from the dead in Mr Harrigan's Phone (2022)
Jaeden Martell receives text messages from beyond the grve

On the other hand, John Lee Hancock seems to short change things when it comes to the horror element – there is never a huge amount of creepiness invested in the scenes where Jaeden Martell receives the text messages. Some of the hacks that have worked for Blumhouse would have no doubt have expanded the film with a whole third act where Mr Harrigan becomes an avenging spirit like Sadako in the Ring films and had Craig fighting to vanquish him. However, Hancock resists this aspect and keeps everything exactly as King had it – two deaths and no more, both of which occur off-screen. On screen though, this has the effect of soft-pedalling the horror aspect.

Other Stephen King genre adaptations include:- Carrie (1976), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Shining (1980), Christine (1983), Cujo (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), Children of the Corn (1984), Firestarter (1984), Cat’s Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), The Running Man (1987), Pet Sematary (1989), Graveyard Shift (1990), It (tv mini-series, 1990), Misery (1990), a segment of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Lawnmower Man (1992), The Dark Half (1993), Needful Things (1993), The Tommyknockers (tv mini-series, 1993), The Stand (tv mini-series, 1994), The Langoliers (tv mini-series, 1995), The Mangler (1995), Thinner (1996), The Night Flier (1997), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Shining (tv mini-series, 1997), Trucks (1997), Apt Pupil (1998), The Green Mile (1999), The Dead Zone (tv series, 2001-2), Hearts in Atlantis (2001), Carrie (tv mini-series, 2002), Dreamcatcher (2003), Riding the Bullet (2004), ‘Salem’s Lot (tv mini-series, 2004), Secret Window (2004), Desperation (tv mini-series, 2006), Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (tv mini-series, 2006), 1408 (2007), The Mist (2007), Children of the Corn (2009), Everything’s Eventual (2009), the tv series Haven (2010-5), Bag of Bones (tv mini-series, 2011), Carrie (2013), Under the Dome (tv series, 2013-5), Big Driver (2014), A Good Marriage (2014), Mercy (2014), Cell (2016), 11.22.63 (tv mini-series, 2016), The Dark Tower (2017), Gerald’s Game (2017), It (2017), The Mist (tv series, 2017), Mr. Mercedes (tv series, 2017-9), 1922 (2017), Castle Rock (tv series, 2018-9), Doctor Sleep (2019), In the Tall Grass (2019), Pet Sematary (2019), The Outsider (tv series, 2020), The Stand (tv mini-series, 2020-1), Chapelwaite (tv series, 2021- ), Lisey’s Story (tv mini-series, 2021), Firestarter (2022), The Boogeyman (2023) and Salem’s Lot (2023). Stephen King had also written a number of original screen works with Creepshow (1982), Golden Years (tv mini-series, 1991), Sleepwalkers (1992), Storm of the Century (tv mini-series, 1999), Rose Red (tv mini-series, 2002) and the tv series Kingdom Hospital (2004), as well as adapted his own works with the screenplays for Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet, The Stand, The Shining, Desperation, Children of the Corn 2009, A Good Marriage, Cell and Lisey’s Story. King also directed one film with Maximum Overdrive (1986).

Jason Blum and his Blumhouse production company have produced a number of other genre films including:- Hamlet (2000), Paranormal Activity (2007) and sequels, Insidious (2010) and sequels, Tooth Fairy (2010), The Bay (2012), The Lords of Salem (2012), The River (tv series, 2012), Sinister (2012) and sequel, Dark Skies (2013), Oculus (2013), The Purge (2013) and sequels, the tv mini-series Ascension (2014), Creep (2014), Jessabelle (2014), Mercy (2014), Mockingbird (2014), Not Safe for Work (2014), Ouija (2014) and sequel, 13 Sins (2014), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), Unfriended/Cybernatural (2014), Area 51 (2015), The Boy Next Door (2015), Curve (2015), The Gallows (2015), The Gift (2015), Jem and the Holograms (2015), The Lazarus Effect (2015), Martyrs (2015), Visions (2015), The Visit (2015), The Darkness (2016), Hush (2016), Incarnate (2016), The Veil (2016), Viral (2016), Amityville: The Awakening (2017), Get Out (2017), Happy Death Day (2017), The Keeping Hours (2017), Split (2017), Stephanie (2017), Bloodline (2018), Cam (2018), Delirium (2018), Halloween (2018), Seven in Heaven (2018), Truth or Dare (2018), Upgrade (2018), Black Christmas (2019), Ma (2019), Prey (2019), Don’t Let Go (2019), Sweetheart (2019), Black Box (2020), The Craft: Legacy (2020), Evil Eye (2020), Fantasy Island (2020), Freaky (2020), The Hunt (2020), The Invisible Man (2020), Nocturne (2020), You Should Have Left (2020), Black As Night (2021), The Black Phone (2021), Dashcam (2021), Firestarter (2022), M3gan (2022), Nanny (2022), Soft & Quiet (2022), Run Sweetheart Run (2022), Sick (2022), They/Them (2022), Torn Hearts (2022), Unhuman (2022), The Exorcist (2023), Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023) and There’s Something Wrong With the Children (2023).

Trailer here

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