Donald Sutherland and Jaden Martell have co-starred in a drama that suggests our smartphones may literally be a gateway to hell.
Stephen King has written a number of haunting and terrifying stories about moral strength, lost innocence, and the psychological battle that has raged between good and evil since the beginning of time. His 2020 novel “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” — an anti-tech tale about a teenage boy who befriends a reclusive billionaire, an old man buys an iPhone, slips the device into his coffin when he dies of some reason, and then starts receiving ominous text messages from the same number after the funeral — is definitely not one of them. This bottom drawer source material proves to be an insurmountable flaw for Jun Lee Hancock Netflix Adapted from the same name, this utterly frustrating and horrific supernatural drama somehow fails to get a moment of fun out of a cautionary tale based on the idea that your smartphone might literally be a portal to hell.
The first problem is that, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone didn’t even start rolling out this idea until it was too late, with the majority of Hancock’s dying script being spent on an awkward intersection between ‘Tuesdays with Morey’ and the less compelling depiction of the American high school experience since the days of ‘She’s All That’.” (I’m still pissed off in Hollywood for making me think R&B superstar Usher Raymond might walk from bio-lab to history class.) But where that timeless masterpiece carried Freddie Prinze Jr.’s charisma at the height of his power, this lifeless fissure Linked to “It” star Jaden Martell, who delivers a grumpy and vacant lead performance that you can’t help but sympathize with his (silly cartoon) character’s bully.
The story begins in 2003, when digital technology is just beginning to invade the small town of Harlow, Maine, where Craig (pre-teen Colin O’Brien) lives with his widowed and seemingly unnamed father (Joe Tibbett). One ridiculous detail in a movie of no other kind: The kids at Craig’s school eventually form into groups based on what kind of smartphones they have, with Razr-heads at one table, BlackBerry users at another, and so forth – all the zombie-funded teens They stare at their screens as if Instagram was really invented and they’re not playing Snake or anything else.
Anyway, Craig can’t buy a phone, which explains why he’s so receptive to a random offer from local Scrooge, Mr. Harrigan (aged 86) Donald Sutherlandhaving a command screen in a role that rarely requires him to stand). The deal is as simple as it is bizarre: Every week, Craig will go read Harrigan’s classics in his mansion. “Heart of Darkness.” “Crime and Punishment.” “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair. They were all plucked from library shelves for someone who feels very comfortable with their personal canons – someone who has little interest in exposing himself to anything new at the end of his life.
For Craig, it’s a steady job after school and a literary education by osmosis. According to Martell’s monotonous voiceover, it’s also an escape from the helplessness Craig feels in the real world – the same helplessness that prevented him from saving his mother’s life – but this seemingly crucial part of the equation is forgotten faster than the rest of this. The movie is destined to be. For Harrigan, whose eyes can no longer bear the burden of reading anything longer than the stock price, the arrangement provides…companionship, perhaps? Man is not exactly an open book. The few insights Hancock offers to the character are so counterproductive that it screams “Who cares, it just flows,” even if Sutherland is able to weaponize Harrigan’s unit in a way that suggests its storied history of heartache and resentment.
Don’t expect to know any of the details, such as “Mr. Harrigan’s” less interested in digging beneath the surface – or generating any coherent sense of conflict, for that matter – than in Craig’s frequent encounters with the bully (Cyrus Arnold), the strange sexual tension that seems It evolves between our hero and his favorite mentor (Kirby Howell Baptist), and consumer technology details circa 2008, which is when the brunt of this story is set. The deception plot only threatens to crystallize when Craig gets his hands on the first generation iPhone (“I had the only iPhone, and [my friends] Billy and Yo-Bot had to share Razr, “The thrilling narrative tells us, one line on Craig’s social commute explains why half of the supporting cast is suddenly gone forever), and no movie has ever focused on the early iOS aesthetic, or determined to get it right.
In a movie whose temporal trappings are often as flimsy as a Yeasayer needle drop or an Ask Jeeves reference, it’s curious to see how much attention went into recreating the chunky interface of the first Apple phone, right down to the process of setting up the favorite song as a custom ringtone. Harrigan is particularly fond of Tammy Wynette, and the prospect of being able to hear “Stand by Your Man” as he pleases is what eventually drives him to the iPhone Craig gave him as a gift one day — that and being able to get the latest news before it’s printed in Next day newspaper. An old man, as uneducated in tech as Harrigan, may recognize this portable faucet for free data as a disinformation addict.
It makes sense that King – an internet libertarian (but prolific) par excellence – would be interested in writing something that frames digital technology as a new monkey’s paw, but this particular story is startlingly ill-suited to do so. Sure, it’s weird for Craig to bury Mr. Harrigan with his phone, but forcing a twice-sad teen to keep texting with/leaving his late friend’s voicemails puts cellular devices as a convenient source of communication rather than an evil gateway to our worst selves.
Of course, this might be a necessary part of a story about how the gods punish us by answering our prayers (to paraphrase the Oscar Wilde play that Harrigan neglected to make Craig read). However, the next chapter in this cautionary tale—in which Craig begins to suspect that Harrigan’s ghost is responding to his texts by killing the child’s enemies from beyond the grave—has less of an impact on reality.
This does not mean that “Mr. Harrigan’s phone” necessarily It was To predict the emergence of false news or serve as a metaphor for the relationship between online resentment and physical violence, but the movie Do Try to do both – in a lukewarm manner, and on direct account of any intrigue, fears, or suspense. One captivating scene finds Craig going to a local cell phone store to transfer his data to a new device in the hopes that it will sever his unholy connection between this world and the next; Who needs a “Barbarian” when you can stay home and watch a nice sales clerk explain how a user’s contact lists can be transferred between two different phones? It’s as intimidating as an AT&T ad, and shot with half the power (for an efficient and reliable tour guy like Hancock, whose credits range from “The Blind Side” to “The Little Things”), the content-based nature of broadcasting gigs could be their monkey paw. ).
It’s also one of the only scenes in the last hour of “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” which is allowed to play with any semblance of personal urgency, as Craig was never present to witness the consequences of his morally questionable calls for help. If his iPhone keeps him away from his actions, it also takes us away from caring about them. Or about Craig, and his ambitions to become a screenwriter. The wonderfully stupid narration the character writes for this movie (“I think our phones are the way we treat the world…it’s a bad marriage”) seems to suggest that Mr. Harrigan was right to dissuade Craig from Hollywood, but then again, it was made this movie.
Grade: D +
“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” will be available to stream on Netflix starting Wednesday, October 5.