I have to be honest, I had never heard of The Harbinger before I learned that it would be playing at this year’s FrightFest. It wasn’t on my radar at all, but when I saw what it was about, I was intrigued. It sounded like it had a pretty interesting and original premise, so I decided to take a chance and watch it. Sure, it could’ve been terrible, but that’s what film festivals are all about. They’re opportunities to see a whole bunch of new movies and hope they’re good, so I took the plunge. And after finally checking this one out, I’m happy to say that the risk totally paid off.
The Harbinger was written and directed by Andy Mitton, and it stars Gabby Beans, Emily Davis, Raymond Anthony Thomas, and Cody Braverman. It’s set during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s basically about two friends, Monique and Mavis, who reconnect after a long time apart when Mavis begins to suffer terrible nightmares. Mavis reaches out to Monique for help, and like the good friend she is, Monique leaves her quarantine bubble and goes to Mavis’s apartment to stay with her for a little bit. However, she begins to experience some freaky phenomena herself, and she soon realizes that whatever is haunting Mavis is after her as well.
Like many good horror films, The Harbinger is a bit of a slow burn. For about the first 20 minutes or so, it’s all about the characters, and there’s almost no horror. In fact, the first act is so character focused it’s tough to tell what the story is going to be about if you don’t already know. Because of that, this part of the film stands or falls solely on the strength of its characters, and luckily, they’re up to the task.
Most notably, the performances here are excellent. They feel completely authentic, so I had no trouble at all believing that these were real people going through real problems rather than just actors reading lines. In particular, Emily Davis, the actress who plays Mavis, is especially good in her role, and she absolutely nails every emotion she has to convey. For example, sometimes her character is afraid, other times she’s distressed, and there are even some moments when she’s happy, and Emily Davis hits each one perfectly.
Because of those good performances, everybody in The Harbinger is instantly likable and sympathetic, including the side characters, so I connected with them right away. I came to genuinely care about them and their wellbeing almost immediately, and that carried the first 20 minutes of the film despite its lack of horror.
Then, when the horror comes, it’s awesome. Granted, the movie never goes all out the way some others do, but the scares it does give us are pretty effective. It’s more about eeriness and dread than jump scares (although it has a few of those as well, and they’re very well earned), so if you’re a fan of that kind of horror, I think you’re going to like what this film has to offer. In particular, the demon haunting Mavis is creepy as hell, and there’s even one scene involving Monique’s mother that I found particularly spine-tingling.
What’s more, as The Harbinger progresses, it also builds a bit of a mystery surrounding the demon and its purpose, and that’s one of the best things about the movie. I found myself pretty intrigued by the strange goings-on in Mavis’s apartment, so I really wanted to know just what the hell she and Monique were up against. That kept me invested in the story even when nothing particularly scary was happening, and my interest never waned until the final frame.
Last but not least, this film has a really great message as well. I don’t want to give away too much about the story, but the way I read it, it’s a metaphor for COVID-19 and the way the world seems to have just forgotten about the people the pandemic has taken from us. It’s a very pro-human life message, and I absolutely love it.
All that being said, I do have to acknowledge that The Harbinger is not a perfect film. It doesn’t have any glaring flaws, but there is one thing I think it could’ve done better. As much as I enjoyed the story, it felt like a hodgepodge of horror tropes we’ve seen numerous times before. To be fair, the movie combines those tropes in a pretty original way, but when all is said and done, it still has a bit of a “been there, done that” kind of feel to it.
Most notably, I found something about the ending a little too predictable. I’m obviously not going to say what it is, but I saw it coming a mile away. It’s something we’ve seen a million other times in a million other movies, so it’s not nearly as impactful as it would be if it were more original. Granted, it’s by no means a bad ending, but given how good the rest of the movie was, I was expecting a bit more from it.
But in the grand scheme of things, those are just minor quibbles. The good in The Harbinger outweighs the bad by a pretty wide margin, so when the credits began to roll, I was a very happy man. I’m really glad I took a chance on this film, and with its likable characters and effective horror, I think you will too if you get the opportunity to see it.