'The Harbinger' (2022) - The Horror of Lockdown Becomes a Shared Nightmare that Won’t Let Us Wake
For many of us, the pandemic was a test of the human condition. Taking stock of who and what matters most in our lives. As a society, for better or worse, we share in a collective nightmare that only recently can we begin to awaken from. With The Harbinger, director Andy Mitton (The Witch in the Window) wears many hats to bring his tale of isolation, friendship, and the fear of being forgotten to fruition. Starring Gabby Beans (House of Cards), Emily Davis (The Patient), Cody Braverman, and Raymond Anthony Thomas (Shutter Island).
During the height of the pandemic, Mavis (Davis) is isolated in her apartment building. However, something else is sheltering in place with her, haunting her sleep. Taking the shape of a Plague doctor, a disturbing omen in its own right, the entity is determined to break her down. Eventually, taking her into the unknown where she'll be forgotten forever. A threat determined to become a reality. With nowhere else to turn, she reaches out to an old friend hoping for a miracle.
Monique (Beans) is quarantined with her brother (Myles Walker) and ill father (Thomas). Utilizing every precaution to ensure their safety, the trio seems content and looking out for each other, adapting to the "new normal." When she receives a disturbing cry for help from her old roommate Mavis, Mo throws caution to the wind to repay an old debt. Leaving her family behind, she ventures off in the dead of night to be by her friend's side.
Mitton captures the differences between solitary lockdown versus being with loved ones with a subtlety that hits home in a way that I haven't seen captured on film. The uncertainty, the assurances about being careful, and the need for human touch are on full display when Monique arrives at Mavis's apartment. The aggressive tidy-up when her friend steps away is all too real a moment from someone who hasn't had a visitor in months. It's here when Mavis reveals the nightmares, sleep paralysis, and the destruction of her dream self that consumes her.
Acting as a metaphor for the spread of illness, the visions also begin to infect Monique during sleep. Stalking the edges of her dreamscape at first, the influence of the "doctor" mutates pleasant memories of her mother into a terror that continues to ramp up into Nightmare on Elm Street territory.
When Mo sees firsthand the physical and emotional toll these restless nights are having on her old friend, she suggests therapy but is quickly dismissed. The troupes of no one believing the victim are thrown out, and rightfully so. The relationship between Mavis and Monique is a genuine one. Beans and Davis are incredible together, personifying years of friendship and heartache that have been through it all. Two close friends separated by time and circumstance but never more than a phone call away.
Determined to help her friend, the two reach out to a demonologist via skype. Having the kids answer the call was a clever touch that many of us know too well from quarantine during that time. The tone, however, turns grim when it's suggested that it's too late for the two of them. They must destroy any evidence or images of this being so that others can avoid being infected. Thriving in despair where one craves the company of others, those connections allow the entity to seed its presence and feed on the suffering. A cruel joke in the face of desperation.
A time capsule for the lowest point in so many lives, Mitton has conjured a monster that thrives in the most mundane human needs. Punishing those who show kindness and come to the aid of another. Hope for that connection, a touch, a warm embrace from a loved one is their downfall. He's tapped into the ultimate fear of being obsolete or not leaving a mark in the hearts of others. As the vessel in which this demon resides, the distorted plague doctor might be a bit on the nose. Still, it carries the weight of thousands of shared nightmares over the last few years. Like a perverse carrion bird waiting to devour us out of existence.
The Harbinger is ambitious, atmospheric, scary, and visually stunning. From snow-covered pastures and claustrophobic apartments to the neon sickness of a basement morgue, Andy Mitton has crafted a modern narrative that manifests our internal fears and doubts. Can someone please let him unleash Freddy Kruger on a new generation?
Now playing in select theaters and on VOD.