Strong and unsettling kid centered psycho-horror by
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLERíS
John McNaughton, who was in top, if not quite peak, form.
This 2015 film was the first feature directed by John
McNaughton since 2001ís SPEAKING OF SEX. Completed in 2013, THE HARVEST
wasnít released in the US until two years later, despite generally good
reviews. The good news is that itís now readily available on DVD and Blu-ray,
so you have no excuse not to check it out!
Andy is a severely ill boy looked after by his heart
surgeon mother Katherine and father Richard in upstate New York.
Katherine is cold and apathetic, while Richard is quite cowed--and
having an affair with a younger woman.
The lonely and inquisitive orphan Maryann is living
nearby with her grandparents. She finds her way to Andyís house, and
visits him by climbing through his bedroom window. Katherine takes an
immediate dislike to Maryann, and orders her not to come around any
more. But Maryann, being the impulsive sort she is, continues her
bedroom window visits. At one point she gets caught inside the house
when Katherine returns home from work, and winds up hiding in the
cellar. There she discovers a boy on life support in a makeshift
Maryann manages to escape through a window, and upon
arriving back home searches the internet. She learns that a baby was
kidnapped from a local hospital years earlier whose features appear to
correspond to those of the comatose boy in the basement. Clearly Richard
and especially Katherine are up to something nefarious involving
kidnapping, organ harvesting and switched identities--and yes, there is
a twist in store.
Whatís most striking about this film is its quiet,
non-aggressive atmosphere. This is a problem in the opening scenes,
which lack urgency. The film, in fact, takes around 10-15 minutes to
grab hold (with the opening scene of a kid getting injured during a
baseball game an admitted non-sequiter), but once it does THE HARVEST
proves quite engrossing.
Itís driven by the towering performance of Samantha
Morton as Katherine. Anyone whoís ever spent time around crazy people
(as I have) will recognize the sudden mood swings and impulsive acting
out that drive the character. The always-formidable Michael Shannon is
nearly as strong as Katherineís weak-willed worse half, and Natasha
Calis and Charlie Tahan, veteran kid actors both, do fine work as
Maryann and Andy, admirably holding their own with the grown-ups.
The script by Stephen Lancellotti isnít always up to
the high standards set by McNaughton and the cast. Itís often quite
predictable, and there are noticeable implausibilities, such as a
basement window left conveniently open and the fact that it takes Andy
so damn long to figure out his abusive parents might not have his best
interests at heart.
Inevitably the film goes completely over the top in the
final scenes, involving a sudden change of heart by one of protagonists,
an overly fortuitous appearance by another and a thoroughly implausible
foot chase. Itís here that the material grows overtly horrific, which in
this case is a shame, as it works best as a dark character-based drama,
which is of course is precisely the type of film John McNaughton does
Living Out Loud Films/Das Films/Elephant Eye Films
Director: John McNaughton
Producers: Steven A. Jones, Kimberly Jose, David Robinson, Meadow
Screenplay: Stephen Lancellotti
Cinematography: Rachel Morrison
Editing: Bill Pankow
Cast: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan,
Peter Fonda, Leslie Lyles, Meadow Williams, Journey Smith, Nolan Lyons