Film review: Dark Harvest

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Film poster for Dark Harvest.

Harvest Festival: Fantasy horror Dark Harvest re-visited.

As the year comes to a close, I like to look back through some of 2023’s less-recognised films, to see if there are any that merit further attention.

Step forward October’s Dark Harvest, a little sleeper that made several ‘Horror Films of the Year’ lists but very little general notice in the horror community. So what’s my case for a fresh look at Dark Harvest?

An older boy with a Halloween face mask pulled on top of his head stands in a field and looks off into the distance. Still from Dark Harvest.

Firstly, this is a very solid creature horror film.

From The Ring to The Blair Witch Project to Jeepers Creepers to The Grudge, this sub-genre requires three things; a setting, a monster, and a mythology to bind them together.

In terms of setting, Dark Harvest gives us an unnamed provincial American town in 1962. It’s framed as the ‘U.S. Everytown’ of the time: it has a football team, diners, drive-ins, and pageants.

It also has a monster: Sawtooth Jack, a deranged supernatural scarecrow who will rise from the cornfields every Halloween, and race for the town church. If he reaches it, the town will be cursed for the next decade; crops will fail to grow, and a dark misery will descend upon the residents.

All sounds pretty familiar, right?

A tall lanky creature is silhouetted with a room completely engulfed in flams. Words are written on the walls behind it. Still from Dark Harvest.

But Dark Harvest is a sly little fellow.

Whilst it goes to great lengths to convince us that it is a very standard creature horror – giving us a range of familiar character stereotypes, from the bombastic Town Mayor to the aggressively macho Chief of Police, to the racist Jocks, to the thoughtful moody protagonist – it proceeds to subvert a lot of our expectations.

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For a start – in contrast to most horror films – everyone believes in the mythology. There are no sceptics about Sawtooth Jack. Everyone accepts he’s real, everyone agrees he must be stopped, and there is even an annual ritual devoted to the event ‘The Run’.

There are firm rules leading up to the big night: all the town’s young men are confined to their rooms and starved, to ramp up their aggression. On Halloween night, only they will be allowed out on the streets, with whatever improvised weapons they can find, and with only one purpose: Kill Sawtooth Jack by any means.

A close up of the unnatural looking face of the creature from Dark Harvest.

There are rewards, too: the young man who successfully slays Sawtooth Jack receives a monetary prize and the adulation of the town. With this aspect of ritualised violence, sanctioned by society, Dark Harvest gives a nod to folk horrors like The Wicker Man and Midsommar.

And there is more subversion of classic tropes to come: the mythology of Sawtooth Jack that is accepted by the townsfolk as sacrosanct is a lie.

And the truth that sits behind it is far darker than a supernatural scarecrow.

A man wearing a skeleton mask stands in a field, holding a pitchfork. Still from Dark Harvest.

Dark Harvest was released on Friday 13th October 2023, which augured well for a Halloween supernatural horror film. It is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Critical and commercial response has been quietly positive, with IMDB giving it 5.5 out of 10.

Hint: keep watching after the credits start rolling if you want to catch the film’s final twist.

We’ll survive if we all just stick together!

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