Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: Teens confront a legendary supernatural spectre that emerges from the cornfields of a small Midwestern town every fall.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Review: What would you get if you took films like The Hunger Games and Children of the Corn, added Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery and put them in a horror movie blender? You would probably end up with something that looks a lot like Dark Harvest.
Directed by genre mainstay David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) this twisted tale is centered on a small town in 1962 and its annual Halloween tradition of sending all the teenaged boys out to hunt down a creature known as Sawtooth Jack. Jack must be killed (and eaten) before the clock strikes twelve midnight as a way of protecting the town from destruction. The winner is then thrown a party, given a cheque, a brand-new car and allowed to leave town (no one else is) for a fresh start. Their remaining family members are also given a new house in the wealthier side of town.
When Jim Sheppard wins he happily drives off leaving his younger brother Richie behind. The next year, in hopes of joining up with his older brother, Richie offers up himself as tribute (why does that sound so familiar?) and joined by his gang of ne’er-do-well friends decides to enter the hunt for Sawtooth Jack. But as the days leading up to Halloween unfold, Richie learns some devasting truths about his family, his brother and the very dark secrets surrounding this “dark harvest”.
Dark Harvest is a wonderfully macabre throwback to 80’s horror, specifically the type that was marketed towards a younger audience. Folks who grew up with these movies tend to appreciate how crazy it was that teens were allowed to witness the likes of The Gate, Lost Boys or Fright Night, as, apart from recent movies like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Hollywood’s idea of horror for younger audiences tend to be quite tame.
Dark Harvest revels in its wickedness more and more as the runtime unfolds and the evil underbelly of a town that feels like something out of a Stephen King novel (no disrespect to Norman Patridge, the writer behind the novel adapted here) reveals itself to be worse than old Sawtooth Jack himself.
The young actors are mostly unknowns who deliver strong performances all around. Casey Likes as Richie Shepard and Emyri Crutchfield as Kelly Haines have great chemistry and are quite believable as the two misfits who just want out of their circumstances. Luke Kirby is deliciously unlikeable as the town sheriff and while they don’t get a lot of screentime the two most recognisable actors here, Jeremy Davies (The Black Phone) and Elizabeth Reaser (Haunting of Hill House) both leave strong impressions with their roles as Dan and Donna Shepard.
The town itself looks authentic and feels lived in, with the costumes and tone fitting the 1962 aesthetics and while Sawtooth Jack does look a bit like Pumpkinhead, there’s enough unique touches to his design to make the character stand on his own.
Possibly the most surprising aspect of Dark Harvest is how brutal it can be. It’s never easy seeing kids meeting grisly ends but what I think makes it that much harder here is how culpable their own parents and the other adults are in what’s happening here. I would argue not one of them (again, kids) deserved their fate, making each loss resonate in a way you don’t often feel in horror.
My only real issue with Dark Harvest is I wish they gave us more backstory into the town and its inhabitants. The movie just throws you into the events of the night and then most of the runtime is dedicated to Richie and his family. It would’ve been better if we got to know more about his friends and their home lives, what would make their parents (besides the motivation of wealth and status) willing to risk their children’s lives like this and what exactly gives Sawtooth his power over the town. A lot of questions that if answered would’ve taken this movie up a few notches.
While it is a bit too lean on details (and a tad predictable) it’s accessible to both mainstream and younger viewers – let’s say PG-13. With genuinely likeable characters, an unapologetically wicked premise and a cool-looking “villain” in the form of Sawtooth Jack, it’s no Trick r’ Treat but it is a fun addition to anyone’s watch list this Halloween season.
Sommer’s Score: 6.5 out of 10
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Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge-Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes. Double Tap Baby! Read More