MOVIE REVIEW: Mr. Harrigan's Phone (2022)
The passage of time and the human brain’s capacity to process it is a frequently problematic and, at times, frankly terrifying affair. Take mobile technology, for instance. Barely twenty years ago, we clamoured over the now positively primordial Nokia ‘brick’ and its then-revolutionary features of SMS and ‘Snake’. The various, assorted flip-phones and tablets and Blackberries that followed in thick and fast succession. And with every seismic, technological leap, every sleek new upgrade and advancement, we seem to lose just a little bit more of our humanity in the process...
Our capacity for autonomy and independent thought in a world now saturated with Google Maps and apps, autocorrect and virtual assistants. Even the simple act of listening to an album in its entirety, rather than flicking distractedly from track to track whilst simultaneously scrambling to answer that ‘urgent’ work email. A hollow, disposable world, where inane photographs of filtered faces and bottomless brunches appear and disappear into the ether like inconsequential electronic ghosts. A digital wasteland where misinformation, hateful ignorance and vacuous celebrity reign supreme. And it is precisely the digital world and its dehumanising influence that 2022 supernatural chiller Mr Harrigan’s Phone confronts in highly insightful and prophetic style.
Set in 2008 back when Steve Jobs’s iPhone empire was gathering unprecedented, globally pervasive momentum, the movie’s titular character and his suspicious aversion to mobile technology serves as a stark illustration of just how irrevocably our world has altered since this frighteningly recent time period. Centred on the unlikely friendship between an ageing, misanthropic millionaire and a local boy tasked with the weekly assignment of reading novels to the sight-impaired Mr Harrigan, the magic of John Lee Hancock’s adaptation of Stephen King’s original short story lies primarily in its moving portrayal of profound and authentic human connection. With its grand, vaulted ceilings, genteel houseplants and expansive library of handsome, leather-bound volumes, Harrigan’s mansion exudes, from the get-go, a tranquil aura of old grandeur far removed from the crass and starkly minimalistic trappings of modern life. In keeping with this awe-inspiring vintage backdrop, Donald Sutherland cuts a suitably imposing figure as the stern and darkly enigmatic Mr Harrigan, his steely exterior belying both a wickedly sardonic sense of humour and an unexpectedly generous heart.
During the five year-long course of numerous visits to the elderly gentleman’s home, teen protagonist Craig develops a voracious passion for literature, wiling away countless hours poring over the numerous, thought-provoking novels in Mr Harrigan’s study. Following a sizeable lottery win on a scratch card given to him by Harrigan, Craig expresses his gratitude with the gift of an iPhone, and sets about introducing his elderly friend to the enticing new horizons of digital technology. So when, shortly thereafter, Mr Harrigan dies after a prolonged period of ill-health, the grieving young man makes the sudden and faintly macabre snap decision to surreptitiously slip the aforementioned phone into Harrigan’s casket during a quiet moment at the funeral shortly prior to his burial.
True to the reigning master of horror’s characteristic penchant for the curious and uncanny, a series of deeply disquieting, supernatural occurrences follow as Craig receives a stream of incoherent texts and calls from the deceased Mr Harrigan’s phone. Wracked with terror and grief, Craig fast becomes convinced his dearly departed friend is reaching out to him from beyond the grave, finding himself at a loss to explain the increasingly freakish and sinister incidents that ensue.
Providing we dispense with the nagging question of how such a notoriously flimsy device could not only survive being buried, but also maintain such extraordinarily healthy battery life, Mr Harrigan’s Phone is an undeniably beautifully crafted tale. With warm and easy chemistry between onscreen legend Donald Sutherland and co-star Jaeden Martell, together with witty screenwriting and a number of incredibly moving moments, this is a supernatural drama centred, above all else, on the priceless value of the connections we forge in life and the resulting pain we suffer when these bonds are inevitably broken. The classic, coming-of-age tropes of seeking social acceptance, sadistic bullies and first love featured here make for undeniably clichéd, well-trodden territory, while further insight into Harrigan’s chequered past would certainly have added welcome additional character development. But the talent of the movie’s theatrical leads, intelligent scriptwriting and incisive social commentary on the numerous evils of technology far outweigh these relatively minor flaws.
Mr. Harrigan's Phone is now available to stream via Netflix