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Wednesday, December 21, 2016
A troubled loner living in an abandoned slaughterhouse in Alabama, haunted by memories of his murdered lover years ago, and possibly going slowly out of his mind among the meathooks and sharp tools...sounds like the makings of a horror flick, but THE HARROW (Breaking Glass Pictures, 2016) just avoids being one and scores instead as a dark, tragic character study with a thriller finish.
From the first moments, we know that writer/director Kevin Stocklin's feature film debut is a sure-handed effort that's going to look great, giving even the potential squalor of the story's settings a picturesque quality. The cast are up to the job for the most part, with the main leads being especially good.
Tom McKay (WRONG TURN 3: LEFT FOR DEAD) is Miller, a drifter doing temp work on a tobacco farm run by volatile, bullying Uriah (Lars Gerhard) and his beautiful young wife Gale (Maggie Geha, "Gotham"). Miller sees signs that Uriah abuses Gale, with whom he has fallen in love (naturally), and, in trying to help her, gets in way over his head.
Years later, Gale's daughter Ruth (Sonya Harum) shows up at Miller's rustic slaughterhouse abode searching for information about why her mother was brutally murdered by Uriah one fateful night and just how deeply Miller was involved. This leads to much soul-searching and a painful dredging up of the past that both find shattering in their own way.
Stocklin's script is lean and to the point while allowing plenty of room for the story to unfold in a leisurely and deftly pictorial fashion. Miller's voiceover about time being a never-ending "now" allows much overlapping of the two timelines, with the past events leading up to Gale's affair with Miller and subsequent murder often merging with his present relationship with Ruth, while we wonder how far and to what degree the latter will eventually go.
Miller repays his landlord by renovating the old building as a historical site and refinishing antique furniture for him. This parallels his thoughts about whether or not a man can make himself over from bad to good and somehow repair the evil he has done.
Eventually, the fact that the much of what happens takes place in a slaughterhouse will contribute to the increasingly morbid tone of the story until we begin to sense a supernatural presence stalking those eerie shadows.
This comes just as past revelations grow more disturbing and what began as a melancholy character study, as well as a bittersweet, tragic romance tale, starts to chill the spine and cause us to inch ever so slowly toward the edge of our seats.
The somewhat twisty ending finally skirts the boundaries of horror-thriller territory, but only just enough to add a suitably suspenseful finish and leave us breathless.
The DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures is in 2.35:1 widescreen with stereo sound and closed captions. Extras include a festival Q & A, a director's commentary, and two short films from Stocklin as well.
Ultimately, THE HARROW is hardly the splatterfest hinted at by the gore-stained meathook on the poster, but it doesn't have to be. Well-rendered and effective, it's well worth watching simply as the dark, melancholy, atmospheric thriller that it is.
Buy it at Amazon.com
More info on THE HARROW
Street date: January 10, 2017