The Harbinger - Grimmfest Northern UK Premiere Review
Director: Andy Mitton
Starring: Gabby Beans, Emily Davis, Ray Anthony Thomas, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Myles Walker
Written by: Andy Mitton
Produced by: Jay Dunn, Andy Mitton, Richard W. King
Cinematography by: Ludovica Isidori
Original Score by: Andy Mitton
Monique ventures out of quarantine to visit an old friend who's plagued by nightmares. She finds herself drawn into a hellish dreamscape where she must face her greatest fears - or risk never having existed at all.
We all experienced the chaos of those early months of Covid, not fully knowing what the virus was and how it would effect us. The paranoia and stress we all felt helped to nurture a mistrust inside that was debilitating at times and I'm sure nightmares were a common occurrence with many during lockdown. In this dark, psychological horror, Director Andy Mitton uses these nightmares, fuelled by a mysterious figure known as The Harbinger, to spread fear and uncertainty and much like the Covid virus itself, the disconnection from reality in a nondescript Queens apartment building.
When Monique gets a call from old friend Mavis asking her to visit, she is initially torn about whether or not to take the risk. The film is set in the early stages of the Covid pandemic when everybody has been asked to stay at home inside their bubble. Face masks and remaining 6 feet away from other human beings are commonplace and Monique's family ask her not to go. But Monique feels like she has a debt to pay to Mavis and eventually decides to make the trek across the city. Mavis is in a terrible state. Having crippling nightmares that she swears she can't wake up from (and when she does she is a screaming mess) and after an emotional reunion the two decide to dump the masks and face this crisis together head on.
Monique, feeling a strange urge to do whatever she can to help Mavis during this tough time, offers to sleep in the same bed on the first night of her arrival, hoping that the thought of having someone close to her might ease Mavis' nightmares. But it doesn't work and the nightmares turn contagious. Monique begins to have bad dreams too and she experiences strange visions of a plague doctor like character, which the two find out through a Zoom conversation with a demonologist, is an infamously popular figure that has been haunting peoples nightmares for a long time. This harbinger of fear and doom wears the traditional plague doctor physician mask historically worn during experimental medical treatments and first employed during the Bubonic Plague. It's also draped in a long, black robe and sort of floats rather than walks, giving it an otherworldly presence. It's super spooky.
'The Harbinger' has a lot of good things going for it and it uses the real life concerns of a virus that is largely mysterious to fuel the more supernatural elements of the story. This isn't 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' by any means but it does a good job of creating sequences that ask the audience "is this real or is this a nightmare?". It goes even further by implementing some dreams-within-dreams sequences which are highly effective in creating anxiety and a good old fashioned scare.
Despite the cast delivering top notch performances and the story remaining intriguing enough throughout, it did feel like there was something missing. The evil villain of the story is well designed and very crepey when it appears but I'm not sure I was in love with the explanation behind it. The idea of fear being planted is explored, which is an interesting concept but it didn't feel fully realised.
Perhaps it's a little too soon to fully appreciate what 'The Harbinger' has to offer. Although it looks like we're far away from the worst of the worldwide pandemic, Covid is still affecting many countries around the world and people are still suffering. This isn't just another Covid lockdown horror film and whilst a lot of the connections between the horror of the real world and the dream world are a bit on the nose here, I'm certain that revisiting this in a few years will be a rewarding and carthartic experience.
- Gavin Logan
'The Harbinger' received it's Northern UK Premiere at Grimmfest on October 9th