‘The Harbinger’ offers a horrifying and sad look at our shared pandemic nightmare

A chilling and haunting look at the fear of being forgotten.

Movies about a bad idea

By Rob Hunter Published 21 July 2022

The 26th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14 to August 3, and you can catch all of our coverage here.


Movies explicitly set during the Covid pandemic are a dicey thing because most people don’t want to be reminded of the hellish landscape of the past two years. Plus, if we’re being honest, most movies are pretty terrible. There are always exceptions, however, and the newest and arguably best of them is the writer/director Andy Mittonthe latest horror movie The harbinger. It’s a rarity in that it succeeds beautifully on its own merits as an unsettling chill while infusing it with the detail and fears of our shared pandemic nightmares.

Mavis (Emily Davis) is collapsing. Dreams of a creepy figure in a bird mask haunt her with nightmares that can sometimes last into the next day, and her waking hours are almost as stressful thanks to lockdowns, uncertainty about the virus and worries. to get sick. She calls for help from the only friend she has, and without hesitation, Monique (Green beans) leaves the safety of his suburban home for the city’s viral battle zone. Monique’s father and brother (Raymond-Antoine Thomas, Myles Walker) are understandably upset, but they know the two friends are bonded by a past experience. Monique discovers too late that the nightmares plaguing Mavis are contagious and that the demonic figure draws strength from our own feelings of loneliness and fear of being forgotten.

So yes, Covid is boom time for the man with the beak.

Mitton’s fourth feature film — after Yellowbrickroad (2010), We continue (2016), and The witch at the window (2018) – again marries terrifying ideas with emotionally resonant themes, but none of these previous films captures this pairing as beautifully as The harbinger. The film’s central horror plot could easily exist outside of the pandemic, and seen outside of the influences of Covid, it’s still a terrifically chilling look at the power of bad dreams and the fear we all have of our own insignificance. All of this is amplified and made more gruesome, however, by the film’s clever use of the details, concerns and uncertainties of the pandemic. We’ve all been through this, and at some point over the past couple of years, many of us wondered if we were at the end of it…and if anyone would even notice.

The dream demon takes on the appearance of a plague doctor as a conscious reference to doctors who “treated” victims of the Black Death and other great plagues. The bird’s beak mask was designed to contain aromatic herbs that would block out the smell of death, but that’s no less unnerving to the intent, and regardless, the figure’s presence was a clear sign of doom and decay. Mitton and director of photography Louise Isidore use the figure well and highlight its very specific presence through light and shadow, and the more Mavis and Mo discover the demon behind the mask, the scarier it becomes.

The dream being is not trying to slice your flesh like Freddy Krueger or reveal an altered reality like in Jacob’s Ladder (1990) or To come true (2020) – he’s only interested in wearing you down, increasing your fear and making you think you just don’t matter. It’s an emotionally overwhelming spiral, and it’s one that The harbinger performs with brilliant and haunting effect.

The film spends time with Mavis and Mo, both together and apart, and their dynamic couldn’t be more different – ​​Mavis is already a fragile shell when we meet her, but Mo is a firecracker who stays afloat with her family. through a combination of security protocols and raw, playful joy. Mo offers her friend a lifeline with this optimism, but as the dreams begin to infect her as well, this positivity begins to wane. Despair is a devastating feeling, and the realization that the demon’s goal is to erase entire existences, to leave no trace of his victims in this world, is endlessly haunting.

The harbinger is scary on its own, but the Covid connection intensifies all aspects. A ‘virus’ that you can catch whether you believe it or not, uncertainty about who infected you because past carriers have already been forgotten, individual responsibility not to spread it further – it’s the nightmare that we currently live in, but twisted into a tight, terrifying, and emotionally dark horror gem.

As good as Mitton’s script and direction is, none of this would work without actors who can carry the weight of both real and supernatural concerns. Davis and Beans are fantastic in this regard, with the latter delivering a powerful performance as someone fueled as much by empathy as fear. Their friendship seems real, as does Mo’s relationship with her family, and as the demon’s fingers worm their way into her subconscious, the stakes rise even higher for those she loves. The fight to make a difference, to not be forgotten, is a punch that the film delivers with memorable imagery, solid scares, and the horribly plausible idea that we might not stand a chance.

Fear is the seed, both in The harbinger and in our predicament in the real world. The fear of dying, the fear of being forgotten, even the fear of being told what to do (and then responding like an irrational donkey), and that essential element of horror is the hero ingredient of this film. There are immediate jumps and scary images, but the film’s greatest strength is the fear that creeps under your skin and into your thoughts. All we can do is fight back, refuse to give up, and never forget those around us who are enduring this same pandemic nightmare.

Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival

The Harbinger offers a horrifying and sad look at our

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird considering he’s so young. He is our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and cites “Broadcast News” as his favorite movie of all time. Don’t hesitate to say hello if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.

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