The Harrowing Review

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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 Story

Synopsis

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.

In-depth Summary

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.

Spoiler
We start off with Ryan dreaming about the events that transpired years back during the bust of a human-trafficking deal gone wrong. He wakes up and gets a tip about a politician from a girl that looks to be either a junkie or a prostitute. Roy Greenbaum, a rookie, tries to discuss Ryan’s past with his best friend and partner, Jack Myers, but is told to mind his own business. The trio head out to the location of the politician and we switch to a scene of a naked woman having sex with a man, presumably the politician. This is soon confirmed when we see that the three officers are listening in and the politician, conveniently, asks the girl to say his name, which she does. Ryan then writes down his name and states it as “Congressman Dunning.” Roy then brings up that their captain, Lt. Logan, wants to get rid of Ryan because of what happened in the past.

Ryan then steps out to get coffee and receives a call from his wife, Anne, who begs him to come home. He explains that he can’t and she apologizes for pushing it so hard. Jack and Roy hear struggling on the speaker and race up to the room where Dunning is. Ryan heads back and hears screaming as well, and races up to find the prostitute and Congressman dead as well as Roy kneeling over Jack’s body, eating him. Ryan faces off with him and Roy rambles about demons while attacking him, which causes Ryan to shoot him, killing him immediately.

Logan shows up after Ryan calls it in and berates him about leaving the other two alone. He then gloats about getting rid of him and finally forcing him to transfer to homicide, out of his department. Ryan goes home and becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened. After some digging, he finds out that Roy was a former patient at a mental hospital run by Dr. Franklin Whitney, someone who Dunning was trying to shut down. Ryan brings this information to Logan who agrees to allow him to go undercover to find proof of Dr. Whitney’s shady practices, much to the dismay of Anne who tells Ryan that if he leaves she won’t be waiting for him to return.

Logan brings Ryan to the hospital under the guise that he can’t remember what happened during the encounter with Roy. There, he meets another patient named Ella who says she’s there because she knows the truth about William Shakespeare and a conspiracy involving him. Ryan meets Dr. Whitney who reads over his file that states that Ryan was there because he believes demons were involved in the murder of his partner. Ryan is taken back because he never stated that in his report, but the doctor asks him why it was written in his case file. Back in his room, Ryan calls Logan and asks why he added that to the file, but Logan tells him that he didn’t touch the file and everything in there was written by Ryan himself.

Ryan does research on the hospital computer during the night and finds out that Roy had been released from the hospital after initially being committed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He also finds that several other people, claiming to be haunted by demons, were committed then released from the hospital as well. In the middle of the night, he has a dream of being wheeled away by bloody nurses while he’s been strapped to a gurney. The next morning he brings it up to Ella and her friend Carl, another patient, and they tell him that it’s what they do there, they take you down below to “the others.” He tries to press them for more information, but the head comes over and forces them to stop talking.

Our main character continues having nightmares about being taken somewhere beneath the hospital and seeing a demon feeding on Carl. He finally decides he has had enough and breaks his cover to Dr. Whitney who tells him that his name isn’t Ryan Callhoun, it’s Roy Greenbaum. Ryan convinces him to call Logan in order to have him explain why he was undercover, but Logan acts as if he’s never heard of Ryan and berates the Doctor for wasting his time. Ryan then notices a picture of a woman he had seen earlier, staring at him in the coffee shop. He asks who she is and Dr. Whitney states she’s his wife.

Ryan tries to make several calls to Anne, and when he finally does get a hold of her she calls him a freak and tells him to stop calling her phone, as if she had no idea who he was. He continues to have the nightmares and wakes up next to Ella with her throat slashed open. Of course, he freaks out and heads out into the hallway where he finds a security guard who has been slaughtered and decides to use the opportunity to escape from the prison and find Anne back at their house.

It’s there where he finds her lying in a pool of blood in their bed. He asks her who did it to her and she can only manage to say, “You know who.” In a fit of rage, he heads to the Doctor’s house and threatens to kill him and his wife if he isn’t provided with answers. The doctor tries to convince him of what he told him before, but Ryan doesn’t buy it and shows them a picture of what he thought was of him and Anne. Instead, it’s just a picture of Anne by herself. Suddenly, the doctor and his wife both morph into demonic entities and Ryan kills Dr. Whitney’s wife and turns the knife on him.

The cops show up before he can attack him and refer to him as Greenbaum. His vision of the demons fades and he sees that he has instead murdered Logan and his wife. He tries to explain that he’s actually Ryan Callhoun, but Dr. Whitney tells him that Ryan is just a persona he made up while in the hospital. That he was actually Roy Greenbaum who came home to find his wife having an affair, so he murdered her in revenge. When he was placed in his care, he and Ella created a game where she pretended to be Anne and he pretended to be Ryan. As the cops drag him away, Dr. Whitney pics up the picture that Ryan dropped that actually did show both him and Anne together.

Characters

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.

Cinematography

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.

Soundtrack

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.

Genre

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.

Final Verdict

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.

Good

  • Decent Cinematography
  • Interesting concept

Bad

  • Confusing plot
  • Gratuitous Nudity
6.2

Fair

Story - 5
Characters - 5
Cinematography - 8
Soundtrack - 7
Horror/Thriller - 6
A writer, video game enthusiast, Halloween nerd, and an author of stories.
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