Andy Mitton’s The Harbinger is an original and unsettling horror film that takes its pandemic setting to bold and ambitious heights.
For many, COVID was everyone’s form of a horrible nightmare. As we locked ourselves inside and the world was consumed by illness and death, it’s hard to believe that some of us look at this time of quarantines and isolated with a sort of quaintness to how different everything and everyone became. However, the multiple years that the pandemic took from us almost make us forget just how long this event has been shaping our lives and as the existential threat of how much time we have lost begins to take its toll, our anxieties have mutated into a beast of its own. Andy Mitton’s The Harbinger tells the story of a woman whose nightmares and anxieties become contagious to those around her and the reality that the thought of possibly not being alone in your feelings might not be as comforting as we all believe.
The Harbinger follows Monique (Gabby Beans), who is isolating at home with her father, Ronald (Raymond Anthony Thomas) and her brother, Lyle (Myles Walker). One day, Monique receives a call from Wendy (Laura Heisler), an old friend who is in need of help due to her horrific nightmares. Against her family’s wishes, Monique sets off to the city to help Wendy with her troubles and when the shocking discovery is made that Wendy’s nightmares might be contagious, the duo is led through a terrifying journey of their own minds and anxieties.
Since the pandemic began for many of us back in 2020, we have been given a wide range of films and television shows that have all confronted this universal issue in their own ways. It’s why it would be easy to dismiss The Harbinger as yet another entry in this specific era of cinema and yet, part of why Andy Mitton’s film works so well is how it balances being a story told in a pandemic while focusing more on the feelings of horror it created rather than purely going through the motions that we all faced during those troubling times.
The Harbinger is less of a pandemic film but more of a piece that takes the human emotion that came from that time in order to tell a horror story that’s anxious and afraid of what might be around the corner for us all. The character of Monique enters the screen with a deep anxiety about what will happen to her father and we see this through just how much dedication she has to protecting those around her in every moment. She begins as a relatable character because of her reaction to the pandemic, but it’s ultimately what she goes through in the story of The Harbinger that makes the character truly feel human despite the supernatural events surrounding both her and Wendy.
The heart and core of The Harbinger largely stem from the chemistry of both Monique and Wendy, which feels incredibly real and authentic right from the moment they meet again face to face. Their first scene together is awkward for them not because of their relationship but rather the world that they find themselves in and how even something as normal as hugging or being able to see more than just the top of your face when wearing a mask becomes something strange in itself. It’s an emotional little scene and the perfect demonstration of how their closeness and willingness to support each other helps The Harbinger become much more impactful when the horror aspects of its story begin to kick off.
Much of The Harbinger is extremely ambitious and, despite its small budget and overall narrative restrictions, the film does manage to earn its ambition for the most part. However, it does suffer from somewhat of a confused third act that intends to go beyond the confined spaces that the first hour offers but this, unfortunately, works to its detriment as the horror element of the film begins to slowly fade away. However, it never stops being an engaging piece of filmmaking and despite some of the stilted acting it suffers from particularly in its opening act, the atmosphere it creates as well as the genuinely frightening horror it hides within itself is endlessly fun to watch unfold.
The Harbinger is an anxious and existential horror film the likes of which could only be made in a world that’s still reeling from those emotions to this day. Although it suffers at times from some stilted acting and a rough third act, it’s an ambitious treat that’s worth diving into especially if this form of horror is one that you find most effective. The pandemic may be over for many but the wounds it created will scar all of us until the end of our lives but perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that it might open up a whole new door for originality that turns anxiety into beautiful and potentially even comforting works of art.
The Harbinger will be released in US theaters and on VOD on December 1, 2022, and on digital platforms in the UK on January 23, 2023. Read our interview with director Andy Mitten.