Director John McNaughton, who made his name with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer back in 1986 and then later in the 90’s with Wild Things, has said that his latest, The Harvest, is very much in keeping with a fairy tale, and it’s easy to see in they way. It’s a purposefully slow burner, taking a long time to set-up the story (a husband and wife resort to desperate measures to save their son from his bed-ridden illness) before presenting its true intentions, and in its worm-like pace that makes the film a far more rewarding experience, cranking the tension up to boiling point in the process.
McNaughton, along with his screenwriter Stephen Lancelotti, thrives in the films unhurried nature, beautifully orchestrating both the story and the characters. Rather than resorting to cheap horror tricks, or any sign of gory shades, the film is very light on all the usual horror traits: minimal blood, not sign of any swears, nor is there any sign of sex or nudity, all of which not only add to the intrigue of the story, but is also a welcome distraction from the insistence of gory images in many horrors.
In addition, and in keeping with the fairy tale motif that runs through the film, it also plays like a 21st century Hansel & Gretel tale: two children, brought together by circumstance (health, family, death) are given insurmountable odds to overcome, and have to use all their cunning, however limited, and out think the “villain”. A very loose comparison mind, but in amongst the quiet, murky seclusion of the woodlands that surrounded them, it’s not too much of a stretch.
While it’s eerier atmosphere and slow-burning story may put some off, The Harvest comes armed with plenty of fire, namely it’s cast who are superb across the board. Michael Shannon, now known to many as Zod from Man of Steel, is much more reserved than normal as the struggling father desperate to repair his scattered marriage as well as care for his son, and his subtle, delicate performance is another master-class.
At the other end of the spectrum is Samantha Morton, whose performance here could be one we here plenty more on come awards season. She is superb as the mother at the end of her sanity, clinging desperately to the hope of saving her boy, as she begins to crack, combining the “battle-axe” tones of Nurse Ratched with the unhinged anger of Kathy Bates in Misery to spectacular effect. That said, such is Morton’s power here that still you feel sorry for the hand she has been dealt, and wholly empathise with her struggles.
Furthermore, the performances of Natasha Calis and Charlie Tahan as the “Hansel and Gretel” of the film are both superb, as is the welcome inclusion of the legendary Peter Fonda, still effortlessly at 74.
One of the more unhurried and restrained “horror” films of the year, The Harvest is both psychologically rich and brilliantly compelling as any other effort that has come out this year. And while its lack of the usual beats may not appeal to the mass audiences, it’s a master-class in acting and storytelling, and one to definitely seek out when it gets a cinema release.