THE HARROWING (2018)

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

UK Release Date – TBC

Do you remember the first time you saw a movie about an insane asylum? This isn’t a slippery trick question, but more of a sardonic hint of what’s in store in this gruesome tale of brusque cops and unhinged minds. In fact if you’ve ever seen a film about a psychiatric hospital then this may all seem very familiar to you. Particular twists and turns are pretty predictable as soon as certain plot elements start to appear. But that’s not always a bad thing and with the right level of craft this sort of spooky mystery might be a familiar comfort rather than a trope filled irritation. It’s all about the execution. How does this one stack up against the competition? Well let’s just say it’s more loony tunes than criminal genius.

Ryan Calhoun (Matthew Tompkins) is a troubled vice detective who has nightmares about a death during a sting operation, only to awaken during another which is about to go awry. The details don’t make a lot of sense but the end result is that he feels he has blood on his hands once again, whether it’s his fault or not. With his partner, a rookie cop and their plant dead he’s left to contemplate some rather strange behaviour during an incident in which there were certain ravings about demons and certain body parts were chewed on. The carnage certainly doesn’t impress his boss Lieutenant Logan (Michael Ironside) who was already trying to get Calhoun out of his unit.

Their investigation points to a psychiatrist Dr. Whitney (Arnold Vosloo) and Calhoun begins to suspect that the bloodshed was orchestrated so that bad press about his clinic could be swept under the rug. With no real leads Calhoun decides that it’s best to lie about what he remembers at the crime scene, and then he has Logan and a judge sign orders for him to become an inmate at Whitney’s hospital. It’s not a great plan to say the least, but almost immediately the story cuts to him wearing an orange jumpsuit as Logan leaves him in chains. ‘Where’s the psychiatry report?’ asks a doctor. Never mind about that replies the screenwriter.

The first act has a lot of problems but the chief concern is pacing as Calhoun jumps between domestic drama and medical conspiracy. Turns out his wife thinks this is all a bad idea too. His recurring bad dreams are enough to suggest that something strange is going on; but this whole introductory chapter could have been trimmed down to the essentials in a film that is easily twenty minutes too long. At least things begin to get more interesting and more eerie afterwards, once he’s undercover inside the facility. But there’s a certain stop-and-start nature to the whole story which at the core just isn’t that complicated. Unfortunately these sort of leaps in common sense extend to both the storytelling and the plot itself.

The film mixes up a lot of the typical clichés as hospital patients act out over strange obsessions and are occasionally tormented by villainous orderlies. But this is also a story in which the violent lunatics don’t have locks on their doors, inside a building in which private medical files have no computer passwords on them. It’s also a place where somebody thought that an empty, undecorated cupboard would be a good stand in for a solitary confinement room. Maybe the production budget just didn’t cover a realistic padded cell? Maybe they thought nobody in the audience would notice. Maybe in a shocking twist I’m the insane one for thinking about this too much.

It’s not all super cheap, and at least the nightmare scenes have been filmed with some style even if it’s just a nicer camera filter. The demon doctor masks sometimes look a little goofy, but at least the colour palette changes from being so washed out during these brief moments. It’s sort of fun even if it’s all been done before. In terms of casting Michael Ironside and Arnold Vosloo don’t get a lot of material to work with, but they do a great job of being gruff and sinister respectively. Tompkins does a reasonable job at being a man fighting his way to the truth, but he doesn’t have the same kind of presence that the two genre favourites exude so effortlessly. It’s a shame that his big moment; a freak-out during a therapy session, just comes across as unmotivated.

Ultimately the problem is that the detective plot is far too thin, and the supernatural elements are even thinner. Even if you haven’t seen this all done so much better in Shutter Island the story is fairly predictable. It lacks the kind of oppressive atmosphere necessary, and the late in the game reveals aren’t enough to have any impact. It also lacks any real sense of police or medical procedure which is kind of an issue when the story hangs on these two elements. This sort of plot can often excuse jumps in logic or unconvincing twists, but a few splashes of blood and a couple of neat monster effects aren’t enough to make it worth seeing.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

Mocata
About Mocata 94 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, foreign cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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