Where I Watched It: Netflix
English Audio Description Provided By: International Digital Center
Written By: Liz Gutman
Narrated By: CJ Hardy
Stephen King adaptations can be all over the place. I haven’t seen enough of them to be able to do some kind of comprehensive list, but in a world of Carrie’s (the original), The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, this one is a bit more Riding The bullet.
Ryan Murphy, who apparently spent a great deal of time stockpiling material to release on Netflix this Halloween season, produces an adaptation of a short story that sees a young boy hired to read books to an aging billionaire, Mr Harrigan (Donald Sutherland), over the course of his formative years. It’s a coming of age film, much like It or Stand By Me, just way shittier.
Our young boy grows up into a Freshman in high school, now played by Jayden Martell, and this takes place in the late 2000’s when phones started becoming smart. This is also when the film becomes stupid. Immediately, we are treated to a Mean Girls first day at school look at where to hang, who not to bother, and where you can eat lunch, which brings us to a lunchroom that defies logic. In this town, cliques aren’t formed by wealth, status, or extracurriculares. People actually sit by the phone they own, making you realize in this moment you are about to finish watching a film about cell phones written by someone who has no idea how they work and likely has a deep contempt for them. Find me a school where people formed friendship groups based on the phone they owned, and I’ll find you a unicorn.
Craving to be able to sit at a table, because there wasn’t one for “people without phones” in the introduction, so I only assume he just stands in the lunchroom while eating his food, our young Martell returns home to ask for a smart phone. Eventually he gets one, it’s a life changing experience, and he wants to share this with his best friend ever… Mr Harrigan.
Eventually, the film gets to a place where Mr Harrigan too gets a smart phone (both leads rock an IPhone) and the film misses on an opportunity to highlight any of it’s accessibility features that would help someone who is almost blind use a cell phone. At least, show him the damn magnifier, or text size increase. But, instead this film assumes blind people are wizards and use the phone the same way. Another somewhat unsettling choice was the decision to make the ringtone between an octogenarian and a high school freshman “Stand By your Man”. You know someone made that as a choice. That person concerns me.
And, in an even deeper effort to prove no one understands how phones work, Mr Harrigan has to come up with a “handle”, because I guess having the words “Apple ID” was too on the nose while holding an apple product, to which he becomes known as The pirate king. There’s a reason given, but it’s lame. But it allows The pirate King to pop up on the phone every time he calls throughout the rest of the movie.
The rest of teh film follows the idea that Mr Harrigan dies, the boy leaves Mr Harrigan’s cell phone with him in the coffin, and when he’s up late at night and he’s got some heavy thoughts, he decides to call the phone thinking no one will pick up or respond. But he ends up being wrong, and then we keep hearing Stand By your Man at random intervals for the rest of the film, and someone keeps texting him unintelligible letters that he reads far too much into. “CCCAAA” means nothing. NOTHING.
John Lee Hancock, who wrote and directed this film, writes a monologue for Sutherland that feels less about cell phones in the late 2000’s, but rather how people are able to reflect in 2022, but by giving it to someone in the past, it makes them seem like a prophet. Using terms like “fake news” in the late 2000’s is a dead giveaway.
This film is not scary. At all. I might let an elementary school child watch it with me. There are a few death scenes I’m not 100% how graphic they actually look visually, but having seen thousands of films, they all felt tame. There is a bully here that some critics felt was a bit much, but really he feels far more like a run of the mill bully than others. As someone who was bullied, this kid felt perfectly written, whereas the kids in the new Halloween Ends are exaggerated, and my recently reviewed let Me in pointed out that child bullies are often exaggerated when the audience is supposed to not care if something horrible happens to them. It’s tough to root for child/teen deaths in films, so making them as irredeemable as possible is always important.
The film also has some weird never explored love thing between Martell and a teacher. he does get irrationally angry over something later in the film, which goes to underscore a scene earlier where the two spend far too long staring into each other’s eyes.
And while this is a slight spoiler, for a film that revolves around being haunted from the grave by someone calling your phone possibly while six feet under, he never actually answers the phone. At no point did Jayden Martell pick up when the phone rang. it drove me crazy. He keeps having thoughts, and drawing conclusions, but he refuses to do the one thing that might have made this film actually interesting.
Hancock, who previously directed films outside this genre quite well, like the Dennis Quaid film The Rookie, really only succeeds in making this somewhat of a coming of age tale. But the tale it is trapped in, the larger story, is either too stupid to take seriously, or introduces concepts and does the least interesting thing with them. Mr Harrigan’s big reveal of his secret closet was so underwhelming. It could have been a big moment, but it went nowhere.
Considering the heavy use of texting and staring at cell phones, I appreciated Liz Gutman’s audio description. It did help tie this thing together, and is somewhat difficult to interject, as the story itself has narration, somewhat limiting the spaces between where audio description exists, but Gutman does very well with the time allotted. And CJ Hardy, who i am less familiar with, was a nice narrator, and I look forward to more from them in the future.
It’s supposed to be spooky and scary season, and something from Stephen King, produced by Ryan Murphy (who has more than enough horror titles under his belt at this point to know better) should have resulted in something… anything better than this. All I can really say is that some parts of the coming of age sections worked, Jayden Martell and Donald Sutherland gave good performances, and it has a score that I appreciated, but will largely go unnoticed. But for its genre, it’s a big fail, and remains a scary film written for old people who are afraid to use technology.
Final Grade: D