By: Trevor Chartrand
Written and directed by Jon Keeyes, The Harrowing is a supernatural thriller that lacks nail-biting tension and edge that would keep viewers hanging on every word. Despite some decent visual effects and cinematography, the film fails to truly inspire fear from its audience.
The Harrowing focuses in on Ryan Calhoun (Matthew Tompkins), a PTSD-suffering cop who has seen his fare share of gore over the years. Following the death of his childhood friend at the hands of an asylum patient, Calhoun goes undercover at the hospital to investigate alleged patient experimentation going on there. While under the scrutiny of a villainous doctor (Arnold Vosloo), Calhoun begins to question his own sanity as he starts seeing supernatural demons that encourage him to do their ominous bidding.
If anything about that synopsis sounds familiar, it’s likely because The Harrowing shares a lot in common with Scorsese’s Shutter Island – where a detective investigating the conditions of an asylum soon begins to question his own sanity, realizing he might just be one of the patients. The comparisons end with the premise of course; The Harrowing is on a much different level than a Scorsese film.
The performances in The Harrowing are consistently mediocre, with Arnold Vosloo standing out in his role as Dr. Whitney, keeping his inflection calm and creepy. Most of the actors are competent enough, but the performance suffers at the hands of some poorly-written dialogue. As Calhoun, Matthew Tompkins spends a large portion of the movie talking to himself, just so he can keep the audience informed about what’s going on. Michael Ironside phones in his role as the disgruntled lieutenant Logan, playing the part as passively as humanly possible. Of course it’s hard to blame him – the man was actually asked to read the clichéd line ‘I want your gun and your badge’ with a sincere, non-comedic delivery… poor guy.
While the performances are fairly subdued, the film’s editor went overboard. That is, either the editor was having a seizure while cutting the film, or they were trying to give the audience an epileptic fit. The film is littered with jarring, split-second cutaways that are better at building migraines than building any tension. It’s the kind of thing we see too often with thrillers these days – flash frames and chaos as a desperate attempt to manufacture some sort of discomfort. It works, but not the way the filmmakers intend it to. It’s as if they’ve swept up every last frame from the cutting room floor and spliced it into the movie at random intervals.
If The Harrowing were playing poker, even the most inexperienced player would see the bluffs coming. Early on it’s clear that details are being left vague and unclear intentionally, and we’re obviously never given the complete picture. The film’s got an ace up its sleeve; we all know it from the start. So rather than taking us along for the ride, I found myself sitting back and impatiently waiting for the truth to be revealed – the details leading up to the twist are just filler by that point. Ironically, by not revealing enough, the filmmakers reveal everything. With too much omission, The Harrowing plays its cards too soon.
Overall, The Harrowing is a competent enough movie – decently shot with some interesting creature effects. At the end of the day though, between the hyperactive editing, awful dialogue, and average performances, you’d be much better off watching Shutter Island again for the sixth time.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor