Saturday, March 9, 2024

Dark Harvest

Movie Name:
Dark Harvest
Year of Release: 2023
Director: David Slade
Starring: Casey Likes, Emyri Crutchfield, Jeremy Davies, Elizabeth Reaser, Luke Kirby, Alejandro Akara, Austin Autry, Megan Best, Jake Brennan, Steven McCarthy, Britain Dalton, Ezra Buzzington
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
David Slade who made a name for himself with a series of films in the mid 2000s, including "Hard Candy" and "30 Days of Night", has spent his time since then directing high profile TV shows, including the excellent "Hannibal", "American Gods" and "Black Mirror". "Dark Harvest" is an adaptation of the novel by Norman Partridge, and its narrative takes place in 1962 in a small rural town. There's a yearly ritual in that town where all teenage boys compete in an annual Halloween "Run". That event is an all out hunt for a creature that has been nicknamed Sawtooth Jack, who has to be caught and killed before reaching the local church (and before midnight as well). That current year, Jim Shepard kills the creature and is promptly celebrated as a local hero. He's given a check for $25,000.00 and a Chevrolet Corvette. As he takes his prizes, his younger brother Richie asks him to take him along on his journey, as he's about to leave town. The following year, everyone is getting prepared for the Run once more, with the exception of Richie, who is exempt as his family has already won. Richie however is determined to participate. As is part of the ritual, the teenage boys are locked in their rooms and starved for three days before being let loose on Halloween. When they do go loose, they usually run the streets with masks and a variety of weapons. Richie manages to sneak out and alongside his friends decides to pursue Sawtooth Jack. And while the creature kills two of his friends, it lets Richie escape. Richie soon finds Kelly, a young woman he's infatuated with, also on the run, and they go on the run trying to understand what's happening. They soon realize that not all is what it seems. 
"Dark Harvest" is an uneven film. David Slade has always been a director with a stylistic point of view, but one whose work speaks stronger when the script he's working with has more than just obvious horror themes. Essentially, the monsters he illustrates in his films are not your typical clich├ęs. "Dark Harvest" however, and for most of the film's duration, has a very distinct M. Night Shyamalan vibe to it, with very heavy nods to "The Village", in the sense that there's a heavy sense of dread stemming from the community in which the action takes place, which is married with this sense all characters reinforce of "sacrifice for the greater good". As the film walks towards its climax, what's revealed isn't necessarily unexpected, but there's a continued sense of "is there something else". And that's where the film fails to ultimately deliver: while the main characters have echoes of Nicholas Ray's "Rebel without a Cause", this mix with the "Twilight Zone" angle never truly gels, and not because the narrative never expands upon the conspiracy theory or even what happens with Sawtooth Jack (and why), but mainly because the script feels undercooked. There's an array of interesting characters that are introduced, including Richie and Jim's parents, played by Jeremy Davies and Elizabeth Reaser, however they're not given much to do, the same going for the "Casey Kasem" master of ceremonies. The film, and the narrative itself, feels truncated, which ultimately makes the film feel unsatisfying. Jeremy Davies, Luke Kirby and Elizabeth Reaser create compelling characters, while most of the younger cast fails to register as credibly. Larry Smith's cinematography is solid, as is Brian Reitzell's score, Abby O'Sullivan's costumes and Patti Podesta's production design. It's a minor and forgettable endeavor from an interesting director.