Saturday, September 5, 2015

"The Harvest": Indie Horror Produces Another Gem

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

We’ve seen a resurgence in the past two years of smaller-budget horror films of substantially improved quality.  With The Babadook I thought we had an odd fluke; with It Follows I thought we had a trend; now, with The Harvest, I’d say we have a definitive renaissance.  Of the three films, The Harvest is decidedly the weakest, but the fact that it is a good film in light of the horror genre’s poor showings over the past two decades is something to behold, particularly in how it remains suspenseful even in the absence of supernatural elements.

Maryann is a preteen girl who moves to a small town with her grandparents after her parents die.  Out looking for a new friend, she visits a boy next door named Andy, who is confined to his bed and his wheelchair and is not allowed to leave the house.  Maryann persistently tries to befriend the boy, despite his mother’s rather unsettling insistence that he must be left alone.  As Maryann pushes forward, she discovers a family secret that puts Andy’s malady in a whole new perspective.

What this film does quite well is combine elements of slow-burning horror with those of a lighter-hearted adolescent coming of age film.  The two child leads are appropriately affectless in their performances, giving off the impression that they are real kids in a truly frightening situation.  It almost feels like a 1980s Spielberg film, which makes the horror turns that much more shocking and unsettling.  Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon play Andy’s parents with a surprising amount of emotional nuance for acting in a genre that isn’t known for it, and the way their marital dynamic unfolds over the course of the film is not only disturbing, but it is downright scary in a way that few films master.

However, The Harvest does hit a stumbling block in how it handles its all-important plot twists.  There are two that change the film’s course quite drastically, and I found the first to be genuinely surprising.  And yet, the second twist is almost a direct logical consequence of the first, so that I just made the assumption that it was an accepted reality within the film’s narrative, only to find that the script expends a lot of energy in trying to hide a ball that’s in plain sight.  There is also an issue in that the film never gives much of a good reason for no one to believe Maryann’s shocking mid-film discovery other than for plot convenience in order to keep the intrigue going.  It’s a mild oversight, but an annoying one.

Despite these issues, though, The Harvest is a tense and thrilling film that is a worthy addition to the independent renaissance that has come to the horror genre.  It kept me guessing (until it didn’t) and knew how to pluck at tense heartstrings without resorting to lazy jump-scare tactics.  If you like good horror like it hasn’t been done since the 70s, this is a film for you.

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