THE HARVEST (2013)
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Thriller is the return to the director’s chair of James McNaughton, who is most known for the cult classic Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. The story is of Andy (Charlie Tahan), a very ill young boy who lives a secluded and guarded life in his rural home. His over-protective mother Katherine (Samantha Morton) is a doctor and surgeon herself and oversees his treatment while his meek father Richard (Michael Shannon) follows along. A young girl named Maryann (Natasha Calis) moves into a house nearby and becomes curious about her reclusive young neighbor. She visits Andy and the two quickly bond. Katherine, however, takes a very quick dislike to this new development and as Maryann continually finds ways to see Andy, Katherine’s behavior becomes more unhinged and aggressive. Worst still, while hiding from Katherine in the basement of the house, Maryann makes a shocking discovery that could not only turn Andy’s odd life upside down but, quite possibly mean he’s in danger as well!
McNaughton directs Stephen Lancellotti’s script well enough, though, there should have been more tension and suspense, especially in the last act. The story starts out almost as some kind of Lifetime drama about an ill boy befriending a spirited girl then turns into something more like Misery when Katherine’s behavior degenerates and she starts to go all Kathy Bates. There are some very disturbing moments here, especially with the big reveal about two thirds of the way through. What we discover is unexpected, a bit twisted and takes an even more bizarre turn later on. While it is very unsettling, the film never gets truly as intense as it should considering what is happening and what is at stake. It becomes a bit of a fight for life that just felt like it needed more urgency. The film also comes to a sad and tragic “Frankenstein-ish” climax that is oddly appropriate, though that gets a bit neutered somewhat by a corny, happy ending last scene that almost feels tacked on. McNaughton is given upsetting enough material to work with here, but, never really brings it to a full boil to really make this thriller the gut punch it should be. It’s a little too laid back. It still works well though, and George S. Clinton provides an atmospheric score and there is crisp cinematography from Rachel Morrison in support of the story and it’s events.
The acting from the cast is very good with Samantha Morton really delivering a disturbing performance as the unstable Katherine. She goes from concerned and a bit smothering to overbearing, paranoid and outright psychopathic by the story’s end. While she does remind us of Kathy Bates’ Annie, she is all the more frightening as she is a mother and a doctor and her behavior contradicts both by her actions. Michael Shannon is intriguing as Richard. A docile man who has gone along with his much stronger-willed wife for far too long and it is starting to break him. No more evident than his tolerance of Maryann and his affair with a pretty drug company rep (Meadow Williams) which seems in direct rebellion to Katherine’s demented wishes. Natasha Calis is very good as Maryann. A strong-willed young girl and quite feisty and resourceful in her fight to free Andy from his suffering at his parents’ hands…even without much support from the adults around her. As Andy, Charlie Tahan gives us a frail and sympathetic young man who we care about, especially when we find out the hidden truths Maryann uncovers. He also can be quite rebellious in his own way, when he wants to be. Rounding out are Leslie Lyles and Peter Fonda who are perfectly charming as Maryann’s kindly grandparents who, unfortunately, don’t seem in a hurry to get involved when Maryann tells of Andy’s plight.
Despite needing a bit more intensity to the proceedings this is a disturbing thriller and a very well-acted one. There are some unsettling revelations that are legitimately surprising and very likable characters in Andy and Maryann. Samantha Morton creates a character that is both Mommie Dearest and Dr. Frankenstein and even if the film needed a bit more strength, she creates a very unnerving portrayal, as does Michael Shannon as a man who has been following her lead for far too long. A film that entertains and disturbs even if not fully living up to it’s potential or the reputation of it’s director.