Fantasia Film Festival 2014: The Harvest (2013)

I’ve put this off long enough. The Harvest was one of the later additions to my Fantasia list.

It also had the director John McNaughton hosting the movie so we had a Q&A afterwards which I stayed for, even though it was so late and a Monday night.  Regardless, I sat around wondering how to write this review and the animations were just easier to write up because I knew exactly how I felt for those. Actually, its not not knowing where I stand but actually how to write it without exposing too much. I feel like there’s an aspect here where if you figured out what was going down the whole time (and I have no idea how you would), maybe the shock factor would be less and the impact would be less as well.

First, lets start with a little synopsis of The Harvest.

The HarvestDirector: John  McNaughton

Cast: Michael Shannon, Samantha Morton, Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan, Peter Fonda

A mother and doctor, Katherine (Samantha Morton) and her husband and former nurse Richard (Michael Shannon) are bound to their home to take care of their very sick son, Andy (Charlie Tahan).  They keep him under their close surveillance all the time and restrict him from going outdoors to protect him from possibly getting worse, hoping it will ease him into recover.  However, when Maryann (Natasha Calis), a young girl moving in next door comes by and sneaks in to play with Andy, their friendship grows with each others company.  Maryann finds her only friend in this new town that she just moved into after her parents death and Andy learns companionship that he hasn’t had before.  Except, Katherine is not quite so accepting of this and finds all ways possible to prevent Maryann from coming by again.  Maryann’s persistence leads to a growing resentment and challenges the control Katherine has over Andy.

The Harvest Natalie Calis

Everything starts with this situation up there.  The Harvest doesn’t sound like there’s a lot going on from my synopsis.  For the most part, you might even wonder if you’re just watching a drama, at least I did.  Except, when the turning point happens, things really crumble really fast.  Lets just say overprotective mothers are the one thing you DO NOT want to encounter especially when trying to get between them.  See, thats why I stopped dating a certain type of guys.  That was a joke but also true.  But I do see reason in all that.  I grew up with a overprotective mother as well but after I saw this, I realized its really just me who thought she was like that.  I mean, one of the fun parts of watching this movie with a bunch of other people who obviously like film  and have fun with these events is that at some point, some guy in the crowd yells, “Crazy bitch” and of course, everyone laughs even though its super intense.  Seriously, I kept whispering that under my breath but this guy went out and said it.  Very awesome 😉

The Harvest

So far, this write-up is really going nowhere.  One thing that is very true is that although The Harvest is slow and its like nothing really much is going on and question marks are floating around my head for a good part of the beginning because I don’t get the deal of this lady, this movie is all about dark humor. In the Q&A session, someone asked the director John McNaughton whether we were supposed to laugh during some of the parts.  This is a pretty intense and serious and psychologically creepy story.  Trust me, I laughed and a few others did at certain points too. I see the point as to why someone might not laugh at it because you are just sitting here tensed up but I truly think it was meant to be funny and break the intensity just a little.  Anyways, he answers something really smart along the lines of how when things get really grim, its good to use some humor to balance it.  I agree with that 🙂

The Harvest

I’ve only seen Michael Shannon in a few roles before this one but he’s always been the dark roles type of guy in my mind.  And thats how he is fantastic for this role.  He’s not exactly in a great position: his marriage is somewhat strained because his wife doesn’t trust his abilities to care for their son and well, no one can do better for him because she is the doctor.  Then, his son is sick and having a hard time recovering.  You can see that he is stuck in the middle of two sides and he is trying to create a balance but he struggles to find one at the same time.  He may be a bit more accepting of Maryann’s “intrusion” into their lives but he also doesn’t want to create more trouble than needed.

On the other hand, Samantha Morton is also wildly fantastic in this role. As the irrationally overprotective mom, she nails it.  Every moment she’s on screen is a moment you wonder what she’ll do next because she’s unpredictable and as the movie goes along, you really have no idea how she’ll react because things get crazy and intense.  Katherine is a complex character and Samantha Morton takes it and really runs with it.

The Harvest

The children in this movie, Natasha Calis and Charlie Tahan are casted pretty well also. They both have  great job doing their respective roles.  Charlie Tahan’s Andy is simply sickly and he really is weak and has no control over his life.  Even though, he wants to achieve many things in his life, we can see his boredom and the enthusiasm and hope that Maryann brings him.  On the other hand, Maryann is a great character played by Natasha Calis, she starts with a pretty grim look at life because she doesn’t want to be in this small town living with her grandparents.  However, her literal breaking into Andy’s room was a pretty funny accident and one that initiates a lot of other problems as the movie progresses.  Her persistence for the friendship is amazing but at the same time, her loyalty is what wins the heart of the audience.  Although she makes some silly choices in my opinion, it does enhance the idea that she is just a child and she will not have well-thought out plans like adults.

The Harvest

Overall, The Harvest is a pretty good horror movie.  It targets the psychological aspect of an overprotective mother and that gets way out of control really fast.  Its a modern and twisted look at a classic fairy tale, is what the director calls it. I won’t tell you which one but I can totally see it.  The atmosphere that John McNaughton creates is really amazing.  The setting is well chosen and the cast really pulls off how the characters should act.  Sure, I spent a good part of the movie not really knowing where this is going but there is no doubt that the intensity notches up exponentially as the story picks up and we really see whats going on.

The Harvest is slow, gripping, intense ride into the world of a dark and troubled family and a girl that enters into it by mistake and the discoveries she makes and the things she needs to overcome.  I’m not sure how many people will appreciate it but I definitely did.  When the movie ended, I really thought that John McNaughton (although I saw nothing of his before) picked a great story and chose a really good angle in portraying it the way he did.

Are you familiar with the work of Michael Shannon? John McNaughton? How about the rest of the cast? What type of horror movies are the most effective for you?