Do demons walk among us? Are they committing heinous acts against humanity at the behest of a devious psychiatric hospital director? Can an undercover officer do what it takes to reveal their dastardly plot? All these are questions that viewers of Writer/Director Jon Keeyes’ suspenseful horror film, The Harrowing will walk away with answers to, should they dare to endure their own harrowing experience on VOD or DVD.
I must admit, The Harrowing as a title didn’t give me a whole lot to work with going into this review, but maybe that is to the film’s benefit. The plot relies heavily on twists and turns to keep the audience engaged in a story where reality unravels as the run time progresses. The question then becomes, is the film as clever as it thinks it is? Let’s explore.
The Harrowing starts well enough in establishing characters you’d expect in your standard police drama. The first familiar face is Michael Ironside as the grizzled veteran, Sgt. Logan. Ironside has been popping up in a lot of indie pictures like this over the past few years, most notably in the quirky post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure, Turbo Kid. But The Harrowing is miles away from that film in terms of tone.
Ironside isn’t asked to do much more than look worn out by his workload on the police force, perhaps relying on the permanently furrowed brow and sinister voice that have served him well over a 40 year career. Still, it’s always nice to see a familiar face and his character does ultimately have a part to play in the fate of our protagonist, Detective Ryan Calhoun, as portrayed by Matthew Tompkins.
I can’t say I recall seeing Tompkins prior to The Harrowing and yet he feels like he could have starred in an 80s network action series. Like a cross between MacGuyver’s Richard Dean Anderson and Brian Bosworth, he gives off a macho sincerity that is very likeable. That being said, I don’t know that athletic nice guy is the right fit for what ultimately becomes psychological horror piece.
The sanity of Tompkins’ Calhoun character is called into question constantly, with our star to asked to convey his emotional struggles through multiple long, quiet scenes with moody lighting that make the movie drag rather than adding any gravitas.
The Harrowing’s inciting incident involves Calhoun volunteering to go undercover in a mental hospital, after a fellow officer named Greenbaum gruesomely murders his partner/best friend during a sting operation which further investigation reveals the psychotic Greenabum to have been a former patient of. Sound like your basic procedural cold open?
Perhaps I should mention that the murderer committed this bloody deed after spying on a congressman having relations with a sex worker and then claiming the devouring of his victim’s intestines was the result of demonic possession before being fed a bullet by Calhoun. At the very least, this film proves it’s not fodder for prime time.
Running the asylum is ol’ Imhotep himself, Arnold Vosloo as Dr. Franklin Whitney. I’ll mention here that the first 30 minutes of the film are fairly slow-paced aside from the brief moment of cannibalism and Vosloo certainly plays his part in that. The former Mummy’s performance is quite reserved, which adds an heir of mystery to his character’s true motivations.
Is Dr. Whitney the devious head of a demon hatching facility or merely the director of a mental health clinic with a backlog of administrative headaches to deal with? If you ask our protagonist, Calhoun, it’s the former, but given his shaky mental state, can we trust him?
You see all the horrific imagery found in the film is confined to brief flashes of mayhem featuring Calhoun and other patients strapped to gurneys while intimidating orderlies in scrubs push them down dark hallways. There seems to be a contingent of genre filmmakers that find playing on the general human unease with hospitals to be a shortcut to horror credibility, but I’ve grown weary of the evil medical practitioner trope.
One bright spot in the film is the twisted relationship that develops between Calhoun and nymphomaniac associate, Ella played by the spunky, Hayden Tweedie. Aside from offering testimony at mealtime that the supernatural surgical abductions are real, Tweedie provides a mischievous charm to the proceedings that give the story a little spark of fun.
As The Harrowing progresses to it’s inevitable end, we’re presented with a series of “shocking” reveals that are fairly predictable, but still satisfying in a, “Oh, so that’s what was really going on in that scene” kind of way. Though not borrowing the jumbled timeline gimmick, Keeye’s seems to playing with narrative ideas similar to that of Christopher Nolan’s classic, Memento in terms of the final twist.
I guess where I felt confused by The Harrowing is the marketing. The poster appears to be selling us a horror film with a gruesome killer beast, yet that creature is featured for less than 2 minutes in the entirety of the film and serves more of a symbolic purpose. Instead we get what ultimately feels like The Usual Suspects if Bryan Singer had quit halfway through production and the studio brought Guillermo Del Toro on board to finish it. Expectations can very much play into an enjoyable viewing experience and I felt set-up for the wrong picture.
I applaud Keeyes for at least keeping a consistent visual style throughout, presenting a competently made popcorn movie, suitable for late night cable. I just wish The Harrowing could have played harder on the horror and pumped up the energy instead of playing coy with a mystery of the mind that was telegraphed long before the film’s end.
The Harrowing is available now on VOD and DVD from Film Mode Entertainment.