Directed by John McNaughton
Elephant Eye Films
While the idea of a creepy organ-harvesting family sounds like a good horror film, “The Harvest” is a dried-up movie-watching experience.
The horror-thriller independent film, which will open Friday at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood, starts by introducing two children in socially isolating circumstances. Andy (Charlie Tahan) is a bed-ridden boy who spends his days playing video games and watching over a small crop of corn in his front yard. He soon finds a playmate in Maryann (Natasha Calis), who moves in down the street to live with her grandparents after her parents’ deaths.
For the first half of the film, Andy and Maryann play out a relatively boring misfits-become-friends narrative. It isn’t until nearly halfway through the film that Andy’s mom, Katherine (Samantha Morton), deteriorates into a manic craze and the story shifts to a darker place.
Collectively, the film is too contrived. The performances are stiff, the plot devices are obvious, the twist ending is hardly a surprise and the film technique isn’t innovative enough to make up for the triteness of the story.
The actors seemed very focused on delivering lines and performing actions rather than portraying or evoking emotion. The performances did little to stir sympathy or fear. Tahan’s performance as a paraplegic, for example, overemphasized the struggle of his condition without bringing any emotional complexity. He inspires pity, but ultimately doesn’t win over the viewer.
Similarly, Morton’s performance as a crazed mother doesn’t evoke the slightest amount of fear. She portrays a one-dimensional view of a psychotic person. She has a goal of protecting her family and nothing will stop her from achieving this goal. It would have been much more compelling to see a complicated villain with a moral struggle or one who is much more emotionally manipulative.
Since it was difficult to care about any of the characters, the plot drags in the beginning. Within the horror film genre, it’s generally expected to drop hints at the approaching gore, torture or terrifying fate. However, “The Harvest” did little to suggest there was anything remotely scary approaching. This may in part be credited to the fact that the film doesn’t deal with actual horror content, but instead outlines a chilling organ-harvesting concept.
Since the film isn’t scary at all, its attempts at foreshadowing do little to intrigue the viewer. Instead, the hints commit a cardinal sin and basically give away the twist ending. This is especially frustrating since it takes so long for the characters to figure it out on screen. Had this been executed more intentionally, as in “Cabin in the Woods” or the “Saw” series, the irony would have been successful.
The camera technique was flawless but, in its pristine quality, it was entirely boring. As the horror genre has moved in the direction of the home-video technique after the success of “The Blair Witch Project” and the “Paranormal Activity” series, it isn’t enough to simply use plain camera techniques. In the world of horror, the viewer wants to live through the terror in a more believable, first-account way. Unless the film is dealing with a completely horrifying concept, hair-lifting performances or state-of-the-art special effects, the use of third-person, steady camera techniques can easily turn a horror film into a basic low-budget, indie film with a morbid storyline.
The quality of the filming falsely leads the viewer to believe the film is a worthwhile scary movie. Yet 15 minutes of watching some very dry acting quickly reveals the film isn’t going anywhere. This is not at the top of the list of horror must-sees.
– Kelsey Rocha