The Harbinger, (not to be confused with Andy Mitton’s current film of the same name), opens with a quote, not from The Necronomicon or Book of Revelations, but from the dictionary, har·bin·ger, noun, a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another. In other words, it’s like an omen, which coincidentally is the name of another film about an evil child.
The film proper opens with a man hanging himself. As soon as he’s dead another man walks in, calmly picks up an artifact from the floor and leaves. The next scene is at the dead man’s funeral. We see the other man, Daniel Snyder (Will Klipstine, The Evolution of Andrew Andrews, Love and a Long Shot)along with his wife Theresa (Amanda MacDonald, Special Dead, The Naked Ape) and daughter Rosalie (Madeleine McGraw, Secrets of Sulphur Springs, The Black Phone).
As if that’s not creepy enough, when the man’s widow says she knows he’s watching over her, Rosalie informs her that she can see him burning in hell right at this moment.
As well as acting in it, Will Klipstine also directed The Harbinger and co-wrote it with Amy Mills (The Mr. Mom Show, The Evolution of Andrew Andrews). And he gets it off to an effectively creepy start that raises several questions. Her parents telling a social worker that Rosalie was born in an unincorporated town and home-schooled all her life so there are no records of her existence, and that they’re moving again, only adds to the unsettling feeling.
For me though, the creepiest part of the first act is the town busybody turning up before they can even get in their new home and boasting about how intrusive the neighbourhood watch program is. You can almost picture her peeping in bedroom windows to make sure nothing “kinky” is going on.
Unfortunately, The Harbinger quickly starts lapsing into cliches. Rosalie’s first encounter with the local kids involves her killing a frog for no apparent reason. Her second involves a boy taking a nasty fall. She only breaks her silence to say things like “Cats make the best pets. They serve the Dark Lord well”. She also has visions of the past, and of some kind of demonic creature. The locals warn them not to visit the local Native American reservation. And then the townsfolk start dying and the police start asking questions.
Thankfully, The Harbinger’s script takes many of these elements and does some interesting things with them. Yes, we can easily guess who the sinister, shaven-headed Luc (Charles Hubbell, The Soviet Sleep Experiment, Relentless) is, but what is doing involved with life insurance? And as the bodies continue to fall and the Snyder’s yard is filled with dead animals and messages to kill themselves their house plays host to ghosts of gangsters (Layne Carver) and 1950’s housewives (Gwen Ruhoff, Gunn, The Protectors).
It also manages to draw in both traditional Christian demonology and Native American lore and combine them in an unusual way, via Floating Hawk (Irene Bedard, Spreading Darkness, Ralph Breaks the Internet) a shaman who tells the girl’s parents that only through death can Rosalie be reclaimed. The result of all of this is that The Harbinger becomes an absurd, and absurdly amusing, genre stew.
Fans of Nicholas Cage should get added enjoyment from Klipstine’s performance as he frequently channels everyone’s favourite scenery chewer in his more over-the-top moments. Bedard counters that with a smart, and much less excitable performance and McGraw is creepy with her pigtailed hair and dour pronouncements suggesting a fully evil Wednesday Adams.
Despite everything that’s going on in The Harbinger it still runs a bit too long at an hour and fifty-four minutes. Scenes could have been trimmed and some of the subplots and information delivery combined and streamlined. And a couple of subplots continue to be teased out even after it’s obvious what’s going on. Thankfully it’s not bad enough to do a lot of damage as the film has enough going on, and going right, to still hold the viewer’s attention. The Harbinger ends up being an amusing, if somewhat overlong and occasionally overly familiar, film suited for a weekend night and a few beers.
Screen Media Films has released The Harbinger in selected theatres as well as VOD and Digital platforms. You can check their website or the film’s Facebook page for more information. And if you’re looking for more films like it, FilmTagger can suggest a few.