The Movie Waffler New Release Review - DARK HARVEST | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - DARK HARVEST

Dark Harvest review
On Halloween 1963 a group of vigilantes hunt a killer menacing their small town.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Slade

Starring: Casey Likes, E'myri Crutchfield, Dustin Ceithamer, Elizabeth Reaser, Jeremy Davies

Dark Harvest poster

October 31st 1963 was the night Michael Myers claimed his first victim in the Illinois town of Haddonfield. Elsewhere in Illinois, in the town of Bastion, the local teenage boys were battling an evil entity known as Sawtooth Jack. What was in the air in Illinois back then?

The latter is the premise of director David Slade's adaptation of Norman Partridge's novel Dark Harvest. The film is set in a sort of alternate greaser America, much like Walter Hill's Streets of Fire. The greasers here don't just battle each other, but the aforementioned Sawtooth Jack, who makes a beeline for the town's church every Halloween night. If he gets there by the stroke of midnight the town's crops will be doomed to fail for the following nine years. Tasked with taking him down are the town's teenage boys, with the boy who ultimately kills Jack being awarded a Corvette (and the ability to leave town, which is otherwise forbidden) while his family is gifted a brand new space age home in the classier part of town.

Dark Harvest review

Richie (Casey Likes) desperately wants to be this year's winner and town hero, but because his brother Jim (Britain Dalton) was last year's winner, he's forbidden from taking part in the hunt, which is known as "The Run." Despite being warned by his parents and the town's sheriff (Luke Kirby, channelling Walter Brennan for some bizarre reason), Richie joins The Run regardless, discovering that there's more to Sawtooth Jack than the town's leaders have admitted.

Dark Harvest was pulled from its initial cinema release of September 2021. Okay, that was at the height of the pandemic, makes sense to pull a movie at that time. It was subsequently pulled from its rescheduled date of September 2022. Hmm, that doesn't sound good. And now it's been unceremoniously dumped on Prime Video. Uh oh. If this makes you cautious about the quality of Slade's film, you're right to be suspicious. Dark Harvest is a disaster, so uneven and confusing that it was clearly a troubled production.

Partridge's novel is well respected and the film certainly has a potentially great setup, so what the hell went wrong? Most of the film's issues come from its failure to sell its premise and build the world it plays out in. The details of Sawtooth Jack are so blurry that it's difficult to figure out how he's viewed by the townsfolk. In the opening we see him bludgeoned and torn apart, with candy spilling out of his rent belly. We're left to wonder if the boys have actually killed something living or if Sawtooth Jack is just a pinata. We know it's the former though as we watched him kill a young boy in the movie's prologue. Whether the movie's characters actually know the true nature of Jack is cloudy. Are they a bloodthirsty bunch or just out for some fun hunting down a harmless metaphor in the shape of a scarecrow?

Dark Harvest review

The details of The Run are equally blurry. At one point a group of boys head to the corn rows where Jack emerges from each Halloween in a pickup truck. The other boys say it's against the rules. What does this mean? Does it mean that if they kill Jack it won't count and the town will be doomed for nine years? Fucked if I know, and the movie doesn't seem to have any clue either. During The Run the boys go mad and start lopping off each other's heads, but it's unclear if this is an annual occurrence or something has happened on this particular night to make them behave this way. If it's the former, is it really worth it just to ensure the harvest comes in?

Slade fails to establish any kind of geography, which means it's never clear how close Jack is getting to his ultimate goal of the church. This completely deflates the ticking clock aspect of the narrative. Equally nonsensical is the portrayal of our young protagonist Richie, who reacts nonchalantly when he sees his three best friends butchered by Jack and immediately sets about romancing his thinly drawn love interest Kelly (E'myri Crutchfield). As the only black girl in a small American town in 1963, would Kelly be so easily persuaded to accompany Richie in breaking the law and winding up the sheriff?

Dark Harvest review

It's similarly unclear what audience Slade is aiming his film at. The Run is presented in the fashion of The Hunger Games and Richie and Kelly's nuance free romance is straight out of the Young Adult sphere, but the film's over the top violence would suggest Slade is after a more mature audience.

What Dark Harvest does have going for it is some nice autumnal cinematography and production design. The suburban streets lined with glowing pumpkins evoke that classic American small town Halloween atmosphere, but the narrative playing out on those streets is a bewildering mess. This Halloween howler is definitely more trick than treat.

Dark Harvest
 is on Prime Video from October 13th.

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