Review by Sean Boelman
Horror fans have learned the hard way that sometimes horror fiction doesn’t make for a great transition from the page to the screen. Dark Harvest is unlikely to satisfy those looking to get their spooky season fix, as this rural horror struggles to step out of the shadow of the much better films to which it owes its existence.
Based on the 2006 novel by Norman Partridge, the movie is set in a rural community in the 1960s, where the teen boys have an annual tradition of going on a hunt to capture a pumpkin-headed creature, only to discover that the ritual has much darker secrets afoot. The comparisons here abound — Children of the Corn, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark — and therein lies the issue: it’s generic.
There is certainly some interesting imagery in the film, but even that feels largely derivative of other, better movies. For example, there are some serious Halloween III vibes to the creature design of monster Sawtooth Jack, and the greaser ‘60s aesthetic is nothing new to the genre. However, for those satiated by shallow nostalgia bait, Dark Harvest might satisfy.
It’s hard to discount some of the technical aspects of the film, like the special effects work and the costuming and production design. However, these strong visuals are often undermined by cinematography that is overly dark, aggressively digital, and often shaky. The movie is never able to feel like more than a throwback — a mere mimicry of the style it tries so hard to capture.
Also frustrating is the film’s lack of thematic depth. There is a subplot in the movie about an interracial couple that shows the potential to ask some questions about racism — especially when combined with the central theme of questioning broken generational traditions — but it doesn’t amount to much.
However, the most damning thing for the film’s success is that its characters aren’t particularly compelling. In many ways, the characters feel ripped out of young adult fiction, despite the movie being dark and often brutal to the point of being aimed more at adult audiences. Not a single character’s arc goes in an unexpected direction, making the whole affair feel annoyingly predictable.
Because it is so hard to get immersed in the film’s derivative world or shallow characters and storytelling, Dark Harvest ends up feeling unfortunately boring. The premise of a bunch of teenagers violently hunting down a pumpkin monster should lend itself to an absolutely exciting horror flick, but the movie is disappointingly bare in terms of thrills, scares, or even anything to care about.
All that is to say, it’s hard to call Dark Harvest a bad horror flick when it offers solid creature design and some pretty cool effects, but it’s not particularly interesting, either. It definitely feels like a good concept squandered by a script that’s far too derivative for its own good.
Dark Harvest hits VOD on October 13.