Dark Harvest

What happened to Dark Harvest? I’d love to know what went on behind the scenes with this movie. For the first 45 minutes, it’s absolutely outstanding, expertly setting up the central scenario and building tension. The second 45 minutes are full of inconsistencies, sketchy logic, and unexplained details. It feels as though entire scenes are missing – the ones intended to provide important information that’s directly relevant to the plot. There’s so much to like here, yet also so much that makes zero sense whatsoever.

The story is set in 1963, in a small Midwestern town that’s cut off from the rest of the country. Each year on Halloween night, a malevolent figure called Sawtooth Jack appears in the cornfields to terrorize the citizens. All the local male high school seniors are ordered to participate in “the Run,” an effort to kill Sawtooth Jack before he reaches the local church. If they don’t do it by midnight, he destroys the crops for the next year, leaving the town financially destitute. If they do, the boy who carries out the actual killing is rewarded with a sports car and other luxuries.

That’s an intriguing concept. Dark Harvest pairs it with an intriguing hero. Richie Shepard (Casey Likes) is a rebellious teen whose brother won the previous year. He’s eager to show what he can do, but parents Dan (Jeremy Davies) and Donna (Elizabeth Reaser) forbid him from participating. Not that he listens. Richie is out there taking part in the Run, with cooperation from new girl in town Kelly Haines (Emyri Crutchfield), a rebel of her own sort. Together, they discover the town’s sinister secret.

The first thing you notice about the movie is how good looking it is. Cinematographer Larry Smith captures 1963 in an evocative manner that’s pleasing to the eyes. Scenes set in the cornfield are eerie because he mixes brightness and shadow in a way that pictures like Children of the Corn didn’t. Strong light coexisting with dark shadows does a lot to convey the danger lurking around in there. Director David Slade (30 Days of Night) adds chilling scenes of gore to drive home Sawtooth Jack’s terrifying nature. Characters die in breathtakingly gruesome fashion.

Right at the point where Dark Harvest has these elements in place, it starts to become lost. Several essential questions are left unanswered. Why is the town cut off? We’re never told. How did this annual ritual begin and where did Sawtooth Jack come from? It’s a mystery. If the teenagers kill him every year, how does next year’s model emerge? That one is partially answered in a mid-credits scene at the end, although the explanation is still missing something. Without getting into spoiler territory, there’s another unreasonable issue related to why parents would make their adolescent sons participate in the Run, knowing many will die.

Those matters drag Dark Harvest down quickly. The film is always great to look at, it has a fast pace, and the performances are very good. When you get to the end, however, it’s impossible not to feel let down by the story's steadfast refusal to establish internal logic. Multiple factors fail to satisfactorily add up. The result is a nagging sense of disappointment.

out of four

Dark Harvest is rated R for strong horror violence and gore, language throughout, and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.