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Release Date: 12/01/22
[Cinemas / VOD]
Genre: Horror

Studio: XYZ Films

"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." 


Thirty minutes into The Harbinger, our main character, Mo, awakens from a dream to pick up a call from her brother. Their father is sick with a fever. He believes he’s contracted COVID-19. By this point, we know enough about the character - and how hard the family has been working to prevent him from getting sick - that you can’t help but feel sick to your stomach. Mo doesn’t have time to process the news though, as she starts to hear a young boy in the apartment above coughing loudly. Eventually the coughing crescendos into a loud explosion. The young boy flies through the ceiling. The apartment door opens and an ominous figure wearing a plague doctor’s mask hangs upside down. Mo opens her eyes again. It was all a dream. And there’s a good chance it still might be.


Set at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film follows Mo as she risks leaving her house for the first time in months to help a friend who, at first glance, seems to be having a mental health episode brought on by a lonely quarantine. Her brother and her father are initially against her choice, but she still decides to go. Initially, the visit seems like a happy reunion. You think that Mo’s friend, Mavis, just needed some company. Then Mavis tells her about a figure that keeps visiting her in her dreams, a figure who wears a plague doctor’s mask and makes it hard to see what’s real anymore. Mo is skeptical at first, believing that perhaps her friend really has been alone for too long…until she starts to have similar dreams.


On one level, The Harbinger is a brilliant and self-aware allegory for the pandemic. But on top of actually addressing the real fear of physical contact that is not too far in the rearview, it also explores the mental impact. At one point in the film, it’s hypothesized that the demon was born - or reborn - from the modern illness. It’s believed that it feeds on darkness. When it approaches our characters in their slumber, it only ever challenges them to face their fears. Through that, the film uses the titular demon to show us how negativity manifests itself and how easily it clings on to those who are unwilling to face it head on.


Aside from its out-of-the-box (and arguably all too relevant) premise, the best aspects about the film are the direction and the acting, particularly from Gabby Beans who plays Mo. While it wasn’t fun to see her descend into madness, the way in which she goes from optimistic to manic is incredible. Once again, it mirrors the exact way humanity regressed in the early days of COVID. Andy Mitton’s vision is the real star though. On top of directing, he wrote, produced, and composed the film too, which tells you that he was very particular about how this story was told. While you never know what’s truly real or fake, not once do you ever have to struggle to guess what a character is thinking. That’s because he’s really good at putting them in scenarios where they are forced to flesh out what’s on their minds. The best example of this is in a sequence where Mavis and Mo find someone who knows about the creature. Despite the dreadful subject matter, the conversation flows realistically and even ends with their expert abruptly hanging up on Zoom.


Speaking of dread, from the minute Mo finally starts to see The Harbinger, Mitton does a good job at creating this sense of uncertainty. That paranoia defines the film. The best part is that it isn’t always there. Just like the titular demon, it creeps up on you just when you start to believe that everything is okay. It’s also worth mentioning that he delivers some of the most effective jump scares of the year.


Despite its many pros, there are a couple small plot points that feel out of place. The first involves one of Mavis’ female neighbors. She exudes antagonist energy, and you can’t help but want The Harbinger to get her at some point. But that’s not how it operates and that’s not what happens. In hindsight, her character is an unnecessary red herring. The second one involves the sick boy in the apartment upstairs mentioned earlier. While it is revealed why he is so important to the story later on in the film, his involvement doesn’t actually make sense.

Modestly borrowing from films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Inception, as well as other genre hits like The Wretched and Come True, The Harbinger might just be a modern sleeper hit. Not just because of its deliberate intent to talk about something the public is still reeling from, but rather because of its urgent message for all those who are still struggling to come to terms with reality: “Wake Up.”

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