For the last several years, we’ve had plenty of serial killers, elevated horror, ghosts, and exorcisms for Halloween season. Last year, the new Halloween trilogy concluded with Halloween Ends, while Smile teased a potentially new supernatural franchise. And this year Saw and The Exorcist surprised with new, belated series entries. But it feels like a while since we had something that felt like a good, old-fashioned dark fairy tale for October. Courtesy of Amazon Prime, David Slade (30 Days of Night, Bandersnatch, Nightmare Cinema) his adaptation of Norman Partridge’s novel, Dark Harvest. Twice delayed, Dark Harvest missed out on any sort of wide theatrical release. However, it may make for an ideal Halloween movie for just staying home on the couch.
Somewhere in small, unnamed midwestern town, there’s a strange Halloween ritual that forbids people from ever leaving. Every Halloween night, a supernatural ghoul named October Boy rises from the cornfields, it belly sewn shut with candies and treats. For three nights before Halloween, all the young men in town are locked away and starved. And then they’re let loose to hunt down and destroy the October Boy before midnight when the church bells ring. The boy who stops October Boy is a town hero – gifted with a car, new house, and the right to leave. But if the town’s young men fail then its several years of doom for the harvest.
Dark Harvest Brimming With Lots of Ideas and a Rich Mythology
Much of what propels interest in Dark Harvest is its detailed mythology. It’s that same mythology that also hampers this dark fairy tale to some extent. Having never read Norman Partridge’s novel of the same name, it’s not clear if writer Michael Gilio struggled to filter and adapt the text to something workable for a 90-minute movie. There’s so much interesting world-building going on here. On the surface, Dark Harvest feels like a mix of The Hunger Games, The Outsiders, and horror movies like cult favourite, Pumpkinhead. Whether it’s the origins of October Boy and its stitched-up stomach filled with Halloween goodies or the intricate rules that guide the ‘run’, Dark Harvest isn’t likely to bore audiences. Even its time period make for an interesting creative choice.
There’s so much interesting world-building going on here.
Yet Dark Harvest also leaves a lot unanswered. Though some ambiguity works if executed property, this Halloween thriller feels like it introduces too many ideas to properly address. For instance, Gilio never really makes it clear why this unnamed town faces disaster if the October Boy makes it to the church steps. Nor does Dark Harvest ever address other rules of the ‘run’ – some of which feel even more blurry follow the third act twist. But its twist works, providing a gut punch and adding some much needed emotional gravitas to the thriller. Nevertheless, there’s an overstuffed feeling to the story with everything from social class to race relations popping up.
Dark Harvest Handles Its Action and Horror Quite Well, But Suffers From Thin Characters
Director David Slade has experience with mixing horror and action, which proves helpful for this Halloween fairy tale. Immediately, from its opening scene, Dark Harvest feels tense and urgent. Those camera shots of young men chasing down the ghoulish creature – and later shots in the cornfield – are well-crafted. On one hand, the visual design for The October Boy recalls Stan Winston’s work on Pumpkinhead. To his credit, Slade also knows how to work around a more modest budget as he largely avoids overexposing the supernatural creature. There’s also a handful of gruesome kills that help this thriller earn an R-rating. In spite of its stuffed story, Dark Harvest moves along at a decent pace as well.
To his credit, Slade also knows how to work around a more modest budget as he largely avoids overexposing the supernatural creature.
Aside from a somewhat over-stuffed story, the characters in Dark Harvest feel more like ideas than fully fleshed out people. Both Casey Likes and E’myri Crutchfield are likable in roles that borrow from a familiar ‘Romeo and Juliet’ trope. And that’s a big part of the problem for the characters – they’re all based on ideas with lots of mileage jampacked into a busy story. For instance, Likes’ ‘Richie’ is the young 50s greaser facing off against preppy jocks, a town cop who doesn’t like him, and the reputation of his ‘golden boy’ older brother. Each of these aspects of the character taps into its own trope that we’ve seen plenty of times. And as good as Luke Kirby was in the The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, he’s just too over-the-top chewing scenery here as the villainous local police officer.
Dark Harvest a Flawed, But Still Worthwhile Halloween Outing
Yes, Dark Harvest ultimately feels like a flawed movie. Perhaps Slade and Gilio struggled to sort through and adapt Partridge’s novel. Indeed, there’s a lot ideas floating around at any one time. And the characters – including October Boy – never feel fully realized. But the mythology and storytelling is compelling enough to always keep you invested with what’s happening on the screen. Slade also makes the more action-oriented scenes zip, while minimizing any budgetary constraints in how he frames the Halloween ghoul. Regardless of its shortcomings, Dark Harvest feels like the dark fairy tale that Halloween movie season has been missing for a while.