Movie and VOD Review: The Harvest

Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon in “The Harvest”
[Photo: IFC Films]

It’s been 29 years since director John McNaughton created his first iconic horror film Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. Will The Harvest grow into another thriller hit?

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

The primary horror in The Harvest comes from watching the superlative talents of Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton wasted on such secondary swill.

Since John McNaughton hasn’t made a feature for 13 years (2003’s little-seen Speaking of Sex), the fact that he’s returned to his early roots as a horror/thriller director gives The Harvest far more attention than it deserves. Surprisingly, the director who brought us 1998’s crazily crafted Wild Things disappoints with a movie that is tedious, slow-paced and rife with veteran actors relegated to one-note performances. We may forgive first-time writer Stephen Lancellotti’s uninspired script, but McNaughton? Not a chance.

Bookended by little-league baseball games (the motif carries throughout, not that it has any viable resonance), The Harvest focuses on one miserable family. We are first greeted by a crow cawing outside a sick boy’s window. Serving as a double portent, the crow/raven suggests impending death while, at the same time, it attempts to feed itself on withering corn stalks. OK, we get it, it’s a rather poor “harvest.”

Samantha Morton and Charlie Tahan in “The Harvest”
[Photo: IFC Films]

Speaking of withering, we then meet bedridden young Andy (Charlie Tahan), primarily confined to a wheelchair as his condition – perhaps a failing liver? – weakens. Hovering angrily over him is his stern taskmaster mother, pediatric surgeon Dr. Young. (Akin to Morton’s performance, even her character’s name is without subtlety, i.e., Dr. Young, doctor to the young.) Shrinking in the background is Andy’s stay-at-home father and one-time nurse (Michael Shannon), who’s derided at every opportunity by his nasty, controlling wife. When Mom lectures the home-schooled Andy on the importance of doing his lessons, she says, “If you don’t study, you’ll grow up to be a nurse.” “Like Dad?” asks Andy. “Exactly.”

Other than babysitting Andy, Dad is assigned the task of acquiring ill-gotten meds on the side from a moony-eyed drug rep (Meadow Williams). These drugs, in turn, engender the unhappy couple’s belabored argument that Nurse Dad thinks Doctor Mom is administering the multiple medications too aggressively, causing their son more harm than good. Arrogant to a fault, she assures her husband that she knows best.

Natasha Calis in “The Harvest”
[Photo: IFC Films]

Along comes a bit of a fresh air in the guise of the teenage Maryann (Natasha Calis), a new resident of this small burg who, due to the recent death of her parents, is now living with her sweet but rather dim grandparents (Peter Fonda, Leslie Lyles). For some reason, this bright and attractive girl can’t seem to make a single friend at her new school. Instead, she focuses all her attention on neighbor Andy. The more Mom slams doors and windows in Maryann’s face, the more the girl pushes back. Can Maryann figure out what’s going on with poor Andy & Co.? Can she alone rescue a boy in a wheelchair? Is there any chance that she might consider alerting the local authorities? The most emotion that The Harvest elicited in this viewer – and not until the third act – was a constant screaming at the screen to please, please, Maryann, call the police!

It’s surprising that veteran film director McNaughton imbues the film with such little tension. It’s not just the flat performances, but the overly-theatrical scenes that annoy. Such as when the camera lingers on a tableau of Grandma lovingly holding Grandpa’s shoulder as they freeze in a golden light, gazing after their stubborn granddaughter. Or a wistful scene between Grandpa and Maryann in the attic. Or the frequent, ochre-tinted walks through the leafless woods to Andy’s house.

The lack of simple logic confounds. At one point, the petite Maryann lifts Andy out the bedroom window, struggling to get the boy and his heavy wheelchair down the steep stairs. Any thought as to how she might get him back into his room? When Mom walks into her home, she’s suddenly imbued with the skills of a bloodhound, sniffing out clues that aren’t apparent to the human eye. While hiding from evil Mom, Maryann covers her mouth. Why? She’s alone; who’s she going to have a chat with? And if Fonda’s Grandpa is supposedly so shrewd, why immediately dismiss his granddaughter’s concerns about Andy?

The only standout in this mess is teenage actress Natasha Calis (The Possession, Daydream Nation), who manages to portray more than one color as the brave girl trying to help her sick friend.

Andy certainly doesn’t deserve the treatment meted out by his mean-spirited mom. That said, we don’t deserve even worse treatment by having to sit through it all.

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Rating on a scale of 5 quacks: 1.5

Release date (ltd) and VOD: April 10, 2015
Directed by: John McNaughton
Screenplay by: Stephen Lancellotti
Cast: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Peter Fonda, Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan
Running Time: 104 minutes
Rating: NR

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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