[Fantasia 2022 Review] THE HARBINGER
THE HARBINGER, written and directed by Andy Mitton, is an engaging, creepy film about forgetting. Monique (Gabby Beans) quarantines with her father and brother in their house during the pandemic’s beginning when her friend Mavis (Emily Davis) asks her for help. Against her family’s wishes, she heads to New York to help Mavis, who is having nightmares but worse, each time, she stays asleep longer, unable to wake up. Lonely with a terrifying concept, THE HARBINGER delivers some frights despite falling into typical horror at times.

The film starts with Mavis in her apartment, sleepwalking and sobbing. Her landlord came because her neighbor called and complained. The neighbor is that annoying, nosy, rude neighbor that flips out when asked to maintain six feet distance. The landlord enters with the key and sees Mavis crying against the wall, her arm bleeding. She awakens when he touches her and, after a conversation, suggests she contact someone to visit. So she reaches out to Monique, who made a promise after Mavis was there for her during a dark period while they both attended Pratt.

The horror is two-pronged because they were at the beginning of the pandemic when New York City lost so many people that trucks were outside hospitals filled with those who passed. It is also during the period when we heard that kids would be okay. So, Monique’s brother Ronald (Raymond Anthony Thomas) and her father are unhappy that Monique is willingly heading to “ground zero.” While honoring a promise is understandable, it is annoying that Mavis did not go into details about her dilemma. Mavis, a white woman, puts Monique, a Black woman, in harm’s way.

Sure, Mavis did not know the extent of the danger, but that is why she should have been forthcoming on the phone about her situation. Often white women feel owed support from Black women, and here it is manifest in this promise that should have had an escape clause—trusting someone ignores uncontrollable outcomes. A person can mask and distance yet still wind up with COVID. Just trusting Mavis and wanting to help her opens Monique to another danger.

Monique and Mavis consult a demonologist online, which is common in horror even before the pandemic, like Sinister. The comparison between the harbinger and a bad idea parallels the misinformation spread during the pandemic. The neighbor, Crystal, is an example of that, calling everyone masking and distancing “sheeple” until the boy upstairs passes away. Despite the shock and pain on Crystal’s face, she, like most people, holds fast to their bad ideas.

Most people go before they are ready, but the number of people that passed from the pandemic is horrific. It feels like Mavis and Monique are talking about both the harbinger and the pandemic when they say they are not ready to be forgotten. When Mavis says she’s not ready, it could be either the harbinger or the pandemic she is referencing. The acting between the two is impressive, and those nightmares are creepy because the monster comes into Monique’s nightmares looking like family, or friends.

The execution is not stunning, and the anticipation is better than the delivery regarding the harbinger’s appearance; the monster looks strange but not scary. The movie spends too much on dramatic sound effects and jump scares rather than focusing on building tension for genuine scares. But what works for THE HARBINGER is the terrifying idea of being erased. When the harbinger takes you, it erases you from everyone’s memory.

That also raises many questions regarding existence and the afterlife. It is not clear if the harbinger kills you in the sense that it cuts your mortal coil, and you shuffle off to the next life. Or if, when it snatches you, you blink out of existence, so there is no ‘after.’ So there are chills in the concept. The ending was spooky, with a tinge of sad, but THE HARBINGER lacks a throughline to make the movie stand out.

THE HARBINGER had its world premiere at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.

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