Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan, Leslie Lyles, Peter Fonda, Meadow Williams, Nolan Lyons
Writer: Stephen Lancellotti
Director: John McNaughton
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Release Date: New York theatrical and VOD, April 10, 2015; Los Angeles theatrical, April 24, 2015
Too often, thrillers with child/young adult protagonists are either BAD SEED/THE OMEN-esque – nothing wrong with these, except that they tend toward the predictable – or the cleaned-up-to-the-point-of-anemia PG-13 model. THE HARVEST is neither. There are several points where we get a little ahead of where writer Stephen Lancelotti and director John McNaughton are leading us, but it’s still a fresh take on a particular subgenre of horror.
A prologue shows us a young boy suffering a perhaps fatal injury as his mother watches in horror. At the hospital, a compassionate doctor appears to help. This immediately raises curiosity – who are we meant to be watching here? What are we meant to learn? We are primed to see everything as a clue.
Young Maryann (Natasha Calis, who was twelve years old when the film was made) goes to live with her paternal grandparents (Peter Fonda, Leslie Lyles) after her parents are killed in an accident. Lonely and exploring the rural neighborhood, Maryann happens upon the bedroom window of Andy (Charlie Tahan), a boy her own age. Andy lives with his parents, practicing surgeon Catherine (Samantha Morton) and retired nurse Richard (Michael Shannon), in an isolated house in the woods.
Charlie suffers from a debilitating condition that keeps him in a wheelchair. He’s delighted that Maryann wants to be friends, but Catherine forbids it, first politely, then more firmly, then with growing hysteria. Richard seems to be in favor of the friendship, but also doesn’t appear to have the backbone to argue with his wife.
To avoid spoilers, although those start with the title, it can be said that there’s more going on here than meets the eye, and what’s happening is both horrific and tragic. Director McNaughton says he’s been inspired by fairytales here, and THE HARVEST certainly has a kind of folklore darkness, with both the form of the story and the setting (into the woods indeed), even though up-to-the-moment technology informs much of the plot.
Morton gives a fearless performance. Her Catherine is possessive and increasingly appalling in her behavior, but her rages come from somewhere real; she’s not a cartoon monster. Shannon, whose Richard is perhaps the most complex character in the piece, gives us enough ambiguity to keep us guessing up to the finale as to what he’ll do while giving the man layers of sorrow and weariness.
Calis and Tahan are natural and appealing, and Fonda has likable warmth as the most grounded adult on hand.
THE HARVEST is more tense and disturbing than out and out scary, but it’s done well enough for us to take it seriously and reflect on the fact that there is nothing more deadly than a human being who is sure that worthy ends justify any means.
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