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The Harvest (Fantasia Review)

The Harvest (Fantasia Review)
07.24.2014by: Chris Bumbray
5 10

PLOT: Young Andy (Charlie Tahan) lives a sheltered existence. Having spent most of his life confined to bed due to illness, his parents keep a watchful eye over all aspects of his life. His MD mother (Samantha Morton) is cold and clinical, while his former nurse father (Michael Shannon) is more compassionate. When a young girl (Natasha Callis) moves into the neighborhood, Andy gets his first friend, a fact neither of his parents seem happy about.

REVIEW: THE HARVEST marks director John McNaughton’s long-awaited return to features, with this being his first film since SPEAKING OF SEX thirteen years ago. Other than a few episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR, this is his first full-on genre film since THE BORROWER, although this is probably more along the lines of the real-world terror of movies like NORMAL LIFE and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER.

While it has flashes of genius, and some really solid performances, THE HARVEST is ultimately a mixed bag. The first half of the film is quite good. Early on, McNaughton makes this play out like a Lifetime movie gone bad, complete with intentionally melodramatic music, and liberal doses of melodrama as young Andy’s plight is established. Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton prove to be excellent choices to play Andy’s parents, as both of them are exceptionally good at ambiguity, meaning that for much of the running time we don’t know if they’re simply overprotective or if something sinister is afoot.

In a twist, Shannon plays the “nice” parent, while Morton is the tough one, lording her status as a doctor over her nurse husband, and constantly undermining his authority every chance she gets. McNaughton has some fun with Shannon’s trademark intense look, especially a scene where young Maryann (Callis) pays a call on Andy, only to be utterly intimidated by his father’s deceptively intense glare.

As for Morton, she unquestionably steals every scene she’s in, especially once the more sinister plot at the heart of THE HARVEST is revealed. Morton’s always been an intense actress, but she’s terrifying here, with her believably intimidating her family, young Maryann, and even the girl’s dotting grandparents (with Peter Fonda ideally cast as her soft-hearted grandpa). Likewise, the kids are both great, with Tahan especially effective at conveying Andy’s plight.

So far, so good, right? While the acting, pacing, and style of THE HARVEST all works beautifully, the movie is utterly betrayed by one confusing plot hole that causes the film to unravel. Without giving too much away, it’s not the big “twist” which puts THE HARVEST strictly in horror territory that’s troublesome. Rather, it’s Callis’ reaction to what she discovers which is unconvincing for a young, supposedly intelligent child. What she discovers is pretty horrifying, but she never even considers calling the police, and when she tells her grandparents, they dismiss it thoroughly, despite the fact that she can prove her claims. Expecting us to believe that Maryann and her grandparents could be so stupid is asking us for a lot – too much actually. From that point on, I was bothered to the point that THE HARVEST abruptly lost all of its appeal, even though I can appreciate the intensity of the conclusion, and how good both Morton and Shannon are throughout.

While THE HARVEST was pretty much impossible for me to buy into after the first hour, I can’t deny that a lot of the film works and if you can accept Maryann and her Grandparents’ obliviousness, maybe you’ll actually be able to enjoy this. For me, it was the one thing that absolutely gnawed away at me until the time the credits rolled, utterly spoiling my enjoyment of the film. It’s too bad, because had this one thing been explained THE HARVEST could have been great.

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