Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.
In 1928, if you told someone that you had just seen a new cinematic version of The Fall of the House of Usher, someone could legitimately ask you which version, American or French, you had seen. In 2021, there were two films released called Swan Song, one starring Mahershala Ali and one starring Udo Kier. This happened again in 2022, when two films called The Harbinger were released, one in July and one in September. This is about the September release, the version written by, directed by, and starring Will Klipstine.
It would be natural to think that the two movies are essentially based on the same story—something else that happens on the regular in Hollywood (see Volcano and Dante’s Peak, for example)—but these two movies have the same name and belong in the same genre, but that’s where the similarities end.
The Harbinger introduces us to the Snyder family, Daniel (Will Klipstine), Theresa (Amanda MacDonald), and daughter Rosalie (Madeleine McGraw) If, seeing that the Snyders have a daughter, causes you to expect that this is going to be a creepy kid movie, well, you’d be right. Rosalie is a creepy kid. She says things that are terrible and disturbing, does things like kill animals and attack other children. Rosalie is disturbed, and we soon learn that she is also cursed, and her parents are at the end of their collective rope.
I’m going to short-circuit the plot summary here, because this is a movie that honestly doesn’t really merit a full blow-by-blow. We’re going to learn of a legend of something called (surprise, surprise) the harbinger, who is essentially charged by Satan himself to leave a totem in the presence of someone, who would then be convinced to commit suicide, damning their soul. As the movie begins, the Snyders have moved to a new town, and the mysterious deaths start happening. They appear very much like suicides, but they are equally suspicious as well. And suddenly, Daniel Snyder is suddenly suspect number one.
Things get more and more involved when Daniel starts opening up about his family’s past to his neighbor John (Steve Monroe), Desperate for any help, Daniel attempts to find out anything he can from Floating Hawk (Irene Bedard) from a nearby reservation. Floating Hawk has some additional advice, and importantly, some additional history when it comes to the harbinger and everything that comes with the people who are cursed with the role.
Of course there’s going to be a big twist, and to The Harbinger’s credit, the major twist doesn’t happen at the end of the movie, but at the end of the second act. It’s not a twist ending in that respect, and because of it, the twist works better than expected.
But, sadly, that’s really the best thing that I can say about The Harbinger. While “predictable” isn’t the right word for it, it also doesn’t seem that original. And then we get to the third act and things get ridiculous.
I realize that what I’m about to say is a bit of a spoiler, but I’m also of the opinion that The Harbinger, at least this version of it, is a film that genuinely doesn’t really deserve a lot when it comes to avoiding spoilers, so I’m not going to put this under a spoiler tag, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it. What we’re going to get in the end is a series of twists, many of which aren’t that twisty and are kind of expected. We’re also going to get a visit from the literal Satan, as in red skin, goat legs, horns, and the rest. I don’t know if there’s a way to do this in the modern day without it coming across as ridiculous. There are too many depictions of Satan like this in films like Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny for it to be anything other than silly on some level.
Because of this, ultimately, The Harbinger is kind of a failure. It’s safe, because the twists are safe, and while it wants to be edgy, it doesn’t give itself the freedom to be as edgy as it needs to be to be interesting. This is (and that will be made clear soon enough) the film with this name that you really can skip without any ill consequences.
Why to watch The Harbinger: It has its moments.
Why not to watch: None of the promises get realized.