Monique leaves her family confinement during the pandemic to help a friend who suffers from terrible nightmares which, she learns too late, are contagious.

Demonic entity stories are an ongoing trend in the mainstream, and hardly a new idea within the horror genre as a whole, so to be strong competition in the field requires a unique concept. The Harbinger is a direct indie entry in line with the current zeitgeist that has this vigorous idea, and a whole lot to offer in the execution of it. This could easily have been a bigger budget Blumhouse project with a wide theatrical release, and likely would have been a hit among both hardcore genre fans and a wider audience alike. Shot by a talented crew, getting their best out of a talented cast, off of the strong foundation of an interesting script; there is a lot to recommend here. 

Writer and Director Andy Mitton has a well built, bleak vision he capably brings to the screen. Containing both a desolate vision of the world during the peak of lockdowns when a family has a vulnerable member to shelter, as well as a truly disturbing concept for a paranormal threat that finds this bleakness as a doorway into the mundane world. This is a slightly more expanded cast than some minimalist shot-during-lockdown concepts, but the majority of the feature rests upon the double act of Emily Davis’s Mavis and Gabby Beans’s Monique. Mavis is a character we meet already broken down by her dreams being twisted to harm her any time she sleeps, absolutely at her wits end when she reaches out to a friend. Monique would do anything for her, which includes breaking the quarantine bubble her father depends upon, and becomes a brilliant character dragged into this growing threat.

The chosen setting of a COVID-19 lockdown is a bold one that defies the supposed logic that no one will want pandemic stories. The thinking being people want escapism, and as such are not ready to handle any attempt to reflect upon these modern trying times. Horror, however, thrives upon catharsis, and this choice soon pays off due to how deeply rooted to the supernatural premise the lockdowns are. It immediately makes for a deeply isolating factor to trap the characters, and an abstract anxiety about the lockdown is woven throughout the paranormal menace in several key ways. This becomes innovation over exploitation, powerful instead of tedious, and is a strong sign of just how talented a creator Mitton is. 

The creature design is simple, striking, and the uncharitable would say a little too obvious; but where the titular Harbinger truly shines is in the execution. Every stage of the insidious evil here is another layer of nightmare fuel. Anxiety over night terrors escalates steadily, the existential dread of what the demon actually wants is going to haunt a lot of viewers long after the credits roll, and there are some strong twists set up with simple core “rules” applied as the internal logic of these events.

The Harbinger is almost a conventional movie; throwing down a challenge to The Conjuring, Sinister, and Insidious. Where it distinguishes itself is in the execution, this is a tightly packed frightener with a bone chilling core premise that is easily punching above its own weight in the same arena as the mainstream franchises. Light on jump scares while heavy on unnerving concepts, this is a real treat for fans who want to be scared by a story. 

We Watched The Harbinger as Part of the 2022 Grimmfest Line-up

(Inconveniently, another movie called The Harbinger releases this year. This one has the plague doctor imagery, the other a little girl.)

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