Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Reel Review: THE HARVEST

Filmed over two years ago and now finally seeing a release, John McNaughton’s THE HARVEST is a mystery and suspense/horror thriller which borrows and redresses elements from many films of the same genre which came before it; an overprotective mother, a family shrouded in secret, and two young friends on the cusp of love being kept apart by forces greater than them. But the film is far from a rip-off or wholly derivative, thanks to some clever writing, powerhouse acting, and a commitment to old-fashioned tension building.

A husband and wife (Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton), keep their sick and handicapped child Andy (Charlie Tahan), secluded from everyone and the outdoors while they treat him for his ailments at home. The family finds their privacy threatened when Mary Ann (Natasha Calis) moves in next door with her grandparents (Peter Fonda and Leslie Lyles ), and befriends Andy.

THE HARVEST begins as a riff on ROMEO & JULIET, as Andy and Mary Ann discover each other and form an immediate bond; he is a handicapped child stuck in a wheelchair who isn’t allowed to go outside and learn how to play catch, while she is newly orphaned and stuck living in an area with no friends. The trials of the two young friends are well-fleshed out, with each one of their backstories and current troubles up front and active at all times. Throw in a nice family dynamic with Andy’s parents who seemingly spend 90% of their day caring for him, and the film has a solid and relatable foundation to build on.

As THE HARVEST moves on, a sneaking feeling comes in that all is not right with the world. The parents, are constantly at odds with each other over Andy’s treatment; one wants to over-medicate him and is constantly overprotective, while the other is more lenient in the approach. This adds another layer of storytelling to the film which raises the interest level, and that is compounded with the arrival of Mary Ann…who is welcome by one parent but not the other. As good as the film is at this point, THE HARVEST then uncovers a whopper of a plot twist which turns the entire story upside-down and will have the audience suddenly re-examining every prior line of dialogue and action by the characters. This sets up great tension building between everyone involved and turns THE HARVEST into a mind-bending ride.

John McNaughton’s direction is gentle yet effective. His ability to get the best out of the younger actors makes the film believable and adds that heartwarming element. McNaughton doesn’t go out of his way to make the film look like a painting, but does manage to raise the blood-pressures of the audience in a few effective scenes of hide-and-seek. As clever as the script is before and after the twist, there are some obvious areas where the writers could have done better research; the medical jargon is dumbed-down to idiot-level and would be insulting to a medical school flunk-out.

The two young actors at the heart of it all, Charlie Tahan and Natasha Calis, are outstanding working together and show great potential for the future. Michael Shannon is rock-solid as always. Samantha Morton, as the overbearing mom, settles into the role of the villain in the story…and eventually one of the most despicable baddies seen on the screen in a while. Peter Fonda is a bit of an extended cameo, but is marvelous.

After a few minor surprises in the third act, THE HARVEST settles into an ending which may be a bit predicable…but is effective because the trip getting there was done so well. John McNaughton has managed to make old territory feel new, making THE HARVEST a wickedly fun thriller.


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