A compromised or unreliable narrator calls into question everything that unfolds in a film. That uneven footing gives a story ambiguity. It allows the viewer to imprint more of themselves on the experience. Uncertainty, when used correctly, allows for deeper engagement from an audience.
In the 2018 film , vice detective Ryan Calhoun (Matthew Tompkins: Sicario 2015) is tormented by the bizarre killing of his best friend. He goes undercover into a forensic hospital to uncover the truth, thrown head first into his own personal hell where figurative demons are real and quite dangerous.
Director Jon Keeyes blurs the lines between figurative and literal worlds. Using fever dream logic to explore ideas like grief and loss, he clearly has more on his mind than jump scares with loud musical cues. While the film itself is concerned with headier ideas, it never forgets to be scary. In fact, the exploration of those ideas makes the experience even more unnerving.
Cinematographer Ron McPherson and Editor Steven Baker manage to rise above any budgetary constraints that were in place and help to deliver an impressive thriller. From the opening sequence on, the color palate and psychological cutting give the impression that not all is right with Detective Calhoun. While the film does take a sudden turn in the second act, subsequent viewings of The Harrowing will reveal the film’s eventuality was being laid out from the very beginning.
Matthew Tompkins shows an impressive range in The Harrowing that would have been difficult for any actor to pull off. The humanity he brings to his character grounds a batshit crazy narrative in reality that, while foreign, feels utterly familiar.
The Harrowing is the kind of elevated genre fare that can satisfy even the most cynical viewers. Think you’re done with Christmas movies for the year? I recommend The Harrowing, a visceral palate cleanser for the holiday season. It’s currently available on VOD.