Horror is, at its core, a genre that entails exploring what we are afraid of. One of people’s biggest fears tends to be that of the unknown. We fear something because we are unfamiliar with it. This tends to be the basis for many horror films, and it’s probably why mental hospitals are the setting in those films. It’s scary to be in an unfamiliar place with strangers, not knowing what’s going to happen.
It also doesn’t help that popular media has portrayed mental health facilities as literal hell holes filled with crazed or possessed people out for blood. This demonization of mental health has plagued the horror genre all the way back in the 50s with the 1959 classic House on Haunted Hill. 59 years later, and it’s a horror trope that is slowly beginning to die with mental health issues becoming more talked about and mental hospitals becoming demystified.
The Harrowing is a film that aims to make a return to this classic horror setting while adding a bit of noir into the mix. It uses typical horror tropes to tell a story of conspiracy and corruption.
The film follows the journey of Detective Ryan Calhoun who was involved in a mission gone wrong that resulted in the death of a fellow investigator during a sting operation. Years later, he finds himself in a similar situation when his best friend and partner is brutally murdered during a stakeout. Finding connections with a mental hospital, Ryan goes undercover to investigate the connection between his partner’s death and talk of “demons” being involved.
An in-depth summary of the film is below, but be forewarned that it explains spoilers. Do not click the spoiler tag unless you want the plot spoiled for you.
Aside from Ryan, the other characters didn’t really seem all that memorable and I didn’t find myself connecting with any of them. Anne was portrayed like an overbearing harpy that couldn’t understand why Ryan was so obsessed with finding out why his life-long friend was murdered. Then there’s Lt. Logan who has it out for Ryan for absolutely no reason. When he first shows up he’s overtly hostile and almost downright giddy that he’s getting rid of Ryan to another department.
Once we’re at the hospital, all of the patients (including Ella and Carl), as well as the entire staff (Dr. Whitney and Nurse Decker), are stereotypical caricatures of what mental patients and hospital staff are. I don’t exactly expect realism when I watch a film, but it was such a goofy aspect of the film that it took me out of the film. In the end, I just didn’t care about anyone as the film hadn’t tried to endear the characters to the audience.
This was probably one of the strongest aspects of this film. The camerawork and angles were pretty much on par with what you’d expect from a modern film. There wasn’t anything progressive or artistic such as well-placed imagery, but there also wasn’t anything laughably terrible like zooming in quickly on a character’s face.
The only downside for me was the filter that was used over the entire film. It gave all of the colors a neon look, and it was almost like watching an episode of The Simpsons, minus the yellow skin.
There was nothing that stood out from the soundtrack for me. There wasn’t any music really in the film aside from atmospheric noises that let the audience know that something foreboding was taking place. However, there wasn’t anything blatantly corny in there either like blaring bass sounds or loud static to try and make the audience jump.
The Harrowing is classified as a Horror/Thriller film as it’s meant to tap into the audience’s fears and it contains various horror tropes, as mentioned previously. However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing as many of the tropes have gone out of style.
Sure, we have things such as the gore and death; however, we also have many tropes that have fizzled away from mainstream horror films present in this film. These are things such as the gratuitous amounts of nudity and sex throughout the film. Nothing slows down a horror film more than flashing a topless woman onto the screen for absolutely no reason. This used to be a way to get an R rating for horror films, but now it’s just a cheap fan-service bit that appeals only to pre-pubescent boys.
As mentioned earlier, there’s also the trope of taking place in a mental hospital which isn’t as scary to most people as we’ve seen a rise in the demystification of mental illness. Finally, there’s the religious aspect with the demons that have also lost their impact as we see more and more people not putting much weight into demons and the devil.
Overall, I think The Harrowing aimed at going back to the roots of horror and bringing them to a modern age. However, the problem is that the filmmakers took it too seriously and many of those tropes came off more comical than horrific. The roots of horror came at a time when society wasn’t used to seeing blatant gore or sexuality on screen, so it was more shocking to see. However, today it just makes the film feel far too dated to be taken as a serious horror film. The serious tone of the film also makes it hard to classify it as a B-Horror film as it’s not campy or over-the-top enough.
Acting was sub-par and the only big star of the film, Arnold Vosloo who portrayed Dr. Whitney, came off like a cartoon villain (Think Skeletor). It’s really a shame because the premise had a solid start but it quickly began to fall apart as more and more of the film’s issues became apparent.
The first hour of the film doesn’t even take place in the hospital and, instead, we see Ryan dealing with his marital problems. When we finally do get to the hospital, nothing really happens until the last half-hour of the film then suddenly everything else is rushed. It felt messy, and the outcome of the film doesn’t pay off because it leaves more questions than it answers. I’ve heard of “keeping the audience guessing”, but there should be a pay off in the end where everything is explained. The ending just left me confused and unsatisfied with no answers.