‘Dark Harvest’ Review: A Brilliant Blend Of Horror And Autumnal Atmosphere
The Halloween season is a logical foundation for a horror film. Yet, so few features seem to capture the essence of the beloved holiday while effectively executing horror tropes. A lot of films do one or the other really well. But pictures that successfully deliver on both, titles like Halloween, Trick ‘r Treat, and Hocus Pocus are relatively few and far between. With that said, I’m pleased to say that David Slade’s (Hard Candy) Dark Harvest defies the odds by serving up a quality horror property that also delivers atmospheric seasonal vibes.
Dark Harvest is set in 1963, in a sleepy Midwestern hamlet with a frightening annual tradition. Every October, a monster called Sawtooth Jack is released from the cornfields and allowed to roam the city. His sole quest is to make his way to the church intact. The teenage boys of the town are tasked with stopping Jack from reaching the church by any means necessary. No matter the outcome, the ritual always ends in bloodshed.
Dark Harvest is an adaptation of the 2006 novel of the same name by Norman Partridge. Partridge’s work makes the transition to the screen quite nicely. The subject matter is dark and becomes even more so as the narrative pushes forward. Screenwriter Michael Gilio (Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) limits the information given to the audience, only revealing the darkest details at the very end of the story. That effectively creates an air of mystery likely to keep the audience on their toes.
Though I did predict some of the narrative developments in advance, there are several pieces of the puzzle that managed to surprise me. Having to wait for all the contextual information surrounding Sawtooth Jack’s annual reign of terror certainly serves to give those revelations a greater impact.
When I learned more of the dark details surrounding Jack’s mythology, that deepened my connection to the character. He is a gnarly creation with a tragic origin story. Iconic creatures don’t come along often but he has the potential to be something special. The film’s antagonist has the head of a pumpkin and the body of a scarecrow and moves like a character from a stop-motion feature. That may not sound like much but it translates to the screen in a supremely creepy way.
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Aside from being physically imposing, Jack is also a stone-cold killer. He possesses an otherworldly strength and a penchant for brutality that surprised me in the best way. There is a pair of kills at the onset of the second act that shocked me with their brutality and lack of buildup. Both are exceptionally gruesome and a lot of fun to watch. Based on the fluidity of movement, it looks like both were rendered primarily via the use of CG. But I have to admit they are pretty well done for VFX. I was impressed at how nasty-looking and visceral the kills are in this scene and collectively.
Another standout moment is the burst of blood that appears after Sawtooth Jack descends into the space where a group of young men are hiding. This sequence also appears to be accomplished with the aid of VFX, but I’m not complaining. I was so impressed by the crimson jet stream that I went back and watched the sequence a second time to be able to take it all in.
Speaking of taking it all in, Dark Harvest does a great job of recapturing the look and feel of the early ‘60s. From the MCM set design to the greaser hairstyles and retro automobiles, we get an eyeful of some of the most iconic looks of that era and it is visually striking.
Also visually striking is the cinematography by Larry Smith. He frames the Midwestern landscapes beautifully and also executes some neat trick photography. There’s a really simple but really effective scene that sees a character being buried alive. The sequence does a lot with a little. We watch as the character is covered with dirt. We are subjected to a painful examination of the look of terror on that person’s face before the screen ultimately goes black as the final shovel full of soil is placed over the character’s head. The way the proceedings are framed and edited left me rattled.
On the whole, Dark Harvest is a visually striking affair that serves up a relentless antagonist, some brutal gore effects, and a suspenseful storyline. I had a really good time with it and I think anyone that enjoys an atmospheric offering with plenty of viscera is sure to find a lot to appreciate here. You can now check the film out for yourself on VOD.
Dark Harvest is a visually striking affair that serves up a relentless antagonist, some brutal gore effects, and a suspenseful storyline.