Dark Harvest movie poster

Dark Harvest

In theaters October 13, 2023


93 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , ,

In Dark Harvest (2023), for one night every Autumn, Sawtooth Jack rises from the cornfield, as young men gather with masks and any weapons they can find to bring it down before the church bells ring at Midnight. Their immediate reward is candy ripped from its belly. The town is promised a bountiful crop and in exchange for its gratitude, the boy – it’s always a boy – sees his family moved uptown and he receives the keys to a brand-new Corvette with a little traveling money to see the world. In the fall of 1963, it was Ritchie’s brother, Jimmy, and he drove off into the dawn ready to take on his destiny. It is now one year later and Ritchie (Casey Likes), unable to live under his brother’s shadow in a town no one leaves, is determined to do The Run and win against the town’s wishes. He’s received postcards and letters from his brother from all over the US with promises to return. With fellow outcast, Kelly (Emyri Crutchfield), banished to the town to be forgotten, they take unusual steps to find Sawtooth Jack and rid the town of its curse once and for all.

There are a lot of unknowns in Dark Harvest, like where and why and origin. Perhaps it’s mentioned in the source material, the novel by the same name by Norman Partridge, which went on to win a Stoker for Best Long Fiction in 2006. Those elements are not mentioned here, focusing instead on class, The Run, and race, sort of. There is only one Mexican student, Bud (Alejandro Akara), and one Black student, Kelly, who lives alone and runs the local movie house. Believe it or not, this works. The audience is treated as if it’s seen small-town horror movies before and the interpersonal dynamics are familiar. There’s no need to belabor the point about bullies, wanderlust, and the feeling of being trapped. Instead, the focus is on the preparation for The Run, where all eligible boys are locked in their rooms and driven mad by hunger and thirst to be let loose and hunt Sawtooth Jack. Think Stephen King’s The Long Walk (writing as Richard Bachman, Signet, 1979) if the end goal was walking to Haddonfield, IL to kill Michael Myers every year.

The town is closely governed by The Harvester’s Guild, a mysterious group that is like Optimists International if it operated as a local chapter of Skull and Bones. We don’t meet the members of the Harvesters, only its current inductees, the Shepards (Jeremy Davies and Elizabeth Reaser), the parents of last year’s winner, and they’re miserable. It’s not hard to figure out the dramatic twist, and from reading this review or the synopsis, you probably already know it, but frankly the “twist” isn’t the point. At its core, Dark Harvest is a simple story about a town and its annual monster hunt and is presented as if you know the basic steps with a few extra beats thrown in. Imagine doing the waltz with axe-throwing. It’s different and a little exciting and there will be some moves you didn’t expect.

Michael Gilio loosely adapts the novel and if you’re a fan, expect the sidestep at the halfway point. This new ending works equally well and sets up not only what could be a sequel, but one that I’m actually looking forward to. Dark Harvest is well-paced and the perfect length for a horror movie, coming in at 93 minutes. Sawtooth Jack is a lovely addition to the Halloween Boogeymen, and I hope we see a little more of it.

Dark Harvest (2023) is Rated R for people getting shot, people getting sliced with scythes, people being bludgeoned, starved, and stomped. There’s a low gore factor, but it’s not any less harrowing.

Dark Harvest is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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