John Lee Hancock is a celebrated director of such films as The Blind Side, The Founder, and Saving Mr. Banks. His last film The Little Things wasn’t well received even though Jared Leto did garner some awards attention for his role in the film. His latest film, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, is a horror story produced by two heavyweights in the genre, Jason Blum and Ryan Murphy. And stars a young talent no stranger to the horror genre either Jaeden Martell, having been in It and It: Chapter 2.
Craig (Joseph Paul Kennedy, Jaeden Martell) is a normal kid growing up in New England. His father is dealing with the loss of his wife and Craig’s mother so he has a lot of free time on his hands. He reads scripture at the local church he and his father attend on Sundays. There he was noticed by a local billionaire John Harrigan (Donald Southerland) He asks his father if he could pay his son to come read to him. And he agrees. For many years Craig comes over and reads books to Mr. Hartigan. Eventually, when technology catches on he gets a phone and gives one to Hartigan as a present. When Harrigan dies something strange happens. He can still get calls from the crave.
This film has all the signs of a Stephen King book. It takes place in New England, it has a supernatural storyline and it has a main character caught in the middle of something he can’t understand. These are all subtexts of the types of stories Stephen King likes to tell. So wouldn’t you know it, it is based on a short story from King’s book If It Bleeds. Even stranger is King’s own son, Joe Hill, who wrote something similar that came out earlier this year called The Black Phone. I’m sure there isn’t a coincidence but it is a bit strange. This story stands on its own though as a fascinating tale using technology as a horror trope.
Jarden Martell has had a good career considering he’s such a young actor. His roles in St. Vincent and the It films as Bill Denbrough got him noticed by Hollywood. He’s been doing other work in The Metal Lords about a metal who tries to win a battle of the bands and Defending Jacob about a crime that rocks a small town. His performance in this film might be the best of his career. He has to carry a lot of the weight of this boy who is traumatized by this event and the phone connected to it. It’s not an easy role to play. He goes through quite a range of emotions throughout the film.
This movie has a couple of messages it is trying to convey. The first is that even back twenty years ago the writers are saying that technology is a bad thing and reading books and newspapers are a better form of learning. And the second is that if you don’t understand something like a cursed phone being able to communicate with the dead you probably shouldn’t mess around with it. That’s a horror trope one oh one any way you look at it. For newer audiences who didn’t know that they do now.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone isn’t anything too wild or crazy but it has a nice story of mentorship between an old man and a teenage boy. With a supernatural technology twist to it. John Lee Hancock gets away from his sports and historical films to jump into the horror genre. With the help of two veteran producers, Blum and Murphy, who know their way around this genre pretty well. Jaeden Martell gets to flex his acting chops opposite a screen legend and gives a decent performance. Once again this time of year provides another twist on the horror genre where people are thirsty for more films as the holiday season approaches. This will quench horror fans’ thirst for a little while before the heavy hitters arrive closer to Halloween.
Dan Skip Allen