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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Harbinger: Contemporary, gripping, and grounded in realism

Andy Mitton’s latest offering is a horror film that focuses on the coronavirus pandemic – but in ways you wouldn’t expect.


Andy Mitton’s The Harbinger explores the horror of lockdowns, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and isolation. It feels almost too soon, but the protagonist, Mo, played by Gabby Beans, delivers a warm and arresting performance amidst a backdrop of anxious fear.

Mo has temporarily moved into her father’s house along with her brother. They’re both being careful, wiping down groceries, wearing masks and testing. The opening shots of the film are full of light streaming in through the window, with a muted blue palette underscoring their concern for their vulnerable father. Mo receives a call from an old friend, Mavis, who lives in the city and has been struggling through the pandemic. Mo’s brother and father are reluctant for her to leave their home – she risks bringing the virus home, but Mo decides she must go and help her friend.

As the two friends reassure each other that they’ve been “safe” with pandemic precautions, it’s easy to forget what kind of film we’re watching. Their relief at being able to hug each other, to sit and eat together indoors, is full of emotion. Mo is reassuringly efficient and ready to help as Mavis details how once she falls asleep, she struggles to wake up and loses huge stretches of time.

Not only is she losing time, but the figure she sees in her dreams is a plague doctor. The beaked mask looms over Mavis in her dreams and she sleepwalks through her night terrors.

Death and fear

Horror films often use spectral, fantastical or otherwise otherworldly figures to confront difficult topics. How else could a film tackle the neglect that killed thousands of people in care homes and deepened already existing inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic? The Harbinger understands that as ghastly as the figure of a plague doctor is, what’s even more terrifying is the prospect of dying so completely that you aren’t even remembered by your loved ones.

The Harbinger lays bare connections in a time of isolation. It deftly confronts the horror of unreality, of being lost and of being forgotten. For some, it might feel like the effects of the ongoing pandemic are still too raw for a film like this. But Mitton’s film identifies the underlying horror of dying alone and forgotten. Many layers of isolation play out in Mo’s increasingly frantic attempts to survive and not be erased from her loved ones' memories.

Losses during the pandemic manifest not only through memories of loved ones, but also in those who died alone and forgotten.

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The Harbinger screened at Celluloid Screams 2022.

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