Dark Harvest (2023)

by - October 13th, 2023 - Movie Reviews


Gorily Inventive Dark Harvest Introduces a New Horror Sensation in Sawtooth Jack

Dark Harvest is a fun — if slight — shocker that’s briskly paced, has a nifty hook to keep viewers involved, and features a beautifully designed demonic creature that’s like a cross between Pumpkinhead, Jack Skellington, and Ray Harryhausen’s iconic stop-motion skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts. Visually clever and directed with giddy, B-movie ferociousness by Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night impresario David Slade, this slick slice of blood-splattered Halloween carnage is worth knocking on doors to see.

Dark Harvest (2023) | PHOTO: MGM

In a small Midwestern town out in the middle of a secluded nowhere, every Halloween, things go literally bonkers. For as long as anyone can remember, the community has been besieged by a supernatural terror known only as “Sawtooth Jack.” If this evil force steps foot inside the local church before midnight, the entire town will undergo a year of unimaginable tragedy and hardship. Residents agree this cannot be allowed to happen.

Set in 1963, the narrative follows Richie Shepard (Casey Likes), the black-sheep little brother to town hero Jim (Britain Dalton). A year prior, Richie’s sibling won “The Run,” an annual event in which all the high school senior boys compete to see who can kill Sawtooth Jack before the ghoul enters the church. His victory secured his parents Dan (Jeremy Davies) and Donna (Elizabeth Reaser) a free house on the right side of the tracks and a lifetime membership in the country club, not to mention seats on the town council. As for Jim, he got $25,000, a new sports car, and a trip to pretty much anywhere a full tank of gas would take him.

Naturally, not everything about Sawtooth Jack or his murderous malevolence is as the town fathers have painted it to be, and even though Jim is not allowed to compete in The Run (due to his brother’s win), he’s still determined to do whatever he has to to secure a new car and the necessary funds to put his hometown in the rearview mirror. If he has to step on a few toes, make the belligerent sheriff Jerry Ricks (Luke Kirby) angry, and force a few uncomfortable, bloodcurdling secrets into the light, so be it.

Even though I’ve never read author Norman Partridge’s popular YA novel, it wasn’t difficult to figure out what the town’s powers-that-be have been going out of their way to hide from the residents for who knows how long. The final few minutes of this thriller also left something to be desired, and it’s a shame that the best part of the climax comes as a mid-credits scene and isn’t the actual ending. It falls a little flat.

But Dark Harvest has an infectious energy that I couldn’t resist. Slade slams his foot down on the gas pedal early on and then keeps it there for the remainder of the running time. Davies adds far more murky emotional complexity than anticipated in his few scenes, and I liked how cutthroat Slade and screenwriter Michael Gilio (Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) are with how they dispatch various characters with such dispassionately neck-ripping cruelty.

Dark Harvest (2023) | PHOTO: MGM

Likes is fine as Richie, and while I didn’t entirely buy him as a stereotypical, leather jacket–wearing 1960s bad boy, he still has enough charismatic intensity to make the character come alive. The actor also has unforced chemistry with costar Emyri Crutchfield, and while the commentary on interracial relationships, racial discrimination, and gender roles is on the heavy-handed side, the pair still make a lasting impression. They’re a good team.

Production designer Patti Podesta (The Black Phone) and art director Mike Mulhall (Night Hunter) make this secluded, tight-knit community come alive, while cinematographer Larry Smith (Only God Forgives) adds visual vibrancy and colorful ingenuity to the proceedings that’s eye-catching. As already mentioned, the creature design for Sawtooth Jack is simply outstanding. He’s straight out of some Alvin Schwartz–inspired nightmare, and the entire effects team responsible for his creation deserves a standing ovation.

It’s a shame Dark Harvest isn’t getting much of a theatrical play. While this one will work just fine at home, it would be even better with a full midnight audience primed and ready to hoot and holler at all the dismembered madness Slade gleefully offers up for consumption. His film is a gory holiday treat I’m almost certain viewers will enjoy gobbling up just as much as I did.

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)

Leave a Reply