The Harrowing is an ambitious but entertaining mess, with a fairly decent performance from Matthew Tompkins
The Harrowing is the latest film from horror director Jon Keeyes, who has brought us such “delights” as Nightmare Box (2013), Fall Down Dead (2007), and American Nightmare (2002). In his mission statement, Keeyes has stated that with The Harrowing he has set out to create ”an intricate puzzle like this – that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.” The film is certainly a puzzle, often confusing and frustrating, with moments of entertainment. It’s an ambitious film, however it’s trying too hard to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, but never really achieving either. There are moments where Keeyes’ originality and natural ability as a storyteller shine through, however, The Harrowing is a classic tale of ”less is more” and there’s too much story and far too many characters to keep track of.
The film follows Detective Ryan Calhoun (Matthew Tompkins, from Sicario) who is determined to discover the truth after his best friend and fellow cop is brutally murdered in what seems to be a ritualistic killing. Calhoun goes undercover into a forensic hospital and is plunged into a living nightmare where the patients are scary and the doctors are scarier. Isolated from outside help from his wife Anne (Arianne Martin) and his Lt. (Michael Ironside), Calhoun must rely on his own wits and determination to see him through his stay. He may have found an ally with “fellow patient” Ella (Hayden Tweedie) but can she be trusted? And what is happening in the hospital’s basement late at night?
The Harrowing has some slight technical issues which are very obvious and as a result, they become distracting. There is a rather annoying over-reliance on color correction which gives the film this washed out appearance. Many of the scenes take place a night, and when they do take place during the daytime, the lighting is so bright and glary that you feel inclined to grab some sunglasses in order to view the film. The film’s camerawork relies slightly too much on hand-held cameras, and this makes action scenes quite chaotic to watch as the camera jerks around wildly. The film’s flashy jump cut editing is amusing at first, but soon becomes another annoyance and yet another distraction to add to the list.
There are some good points to mention. Firstly, the special effects are quite impressive. The shots of gore and bloody bodies are quite realistic and are fairly decent for a low-budget independent film. Matthew Tompkins’ performance holds the film together, even during its more troubling and problematic scenes. Tompkins seems to enjoy playing the main character, and one feels that this film was his chance to let his hair down and have some fun. The director certainly has a love and passion for the horror genre, and we can see his ambition shine through. Horror and gore fans may find that The Harrowing is their type of film, but those who are seeking a more serious drama might want to give this a miss.
Personally speaking, my main issues with the film were the very poorly developed female characters. The character of Anne was simply there to be “the supporting wife” who seems completely fine with her husband going undercover into a mental hospital. She spends most of her time either comforting her husband or nagging at him, and her character lacks any real depth or development. Erin Marie Garrett’s character, an escort called Bethany, has little to do aside from being in a couple of sleazy sex scenes and she is killed off rather quickly. The more interesting female character is Ella, but she is also sexualized and is presented as a nymphomaniac. The representation of mental illness is also a little problematic, and the mental institution is presented like every other generic “nut house” in film. The film’s narrative is quite confusing and relies far too much on twists and turns, as a result, the film feels less like Shutter Island and more like The Happening.
Overall, The Harrowing is an entertaining mess of a film. The filmmakers’ ambition is something to be admired. The film’s runtime could have been trimmed down quite a bit, and there is a decent film hidden in there underneath all the mayhem, fake blood and poor dialogue. It’s certainly not an absolute disaster of a film, but it’s hardly memorable.