Remember when Samantha Morton gave Billy Crudup a dance boner in that movie where he shaved Dennis Hopper’s face while waxing poetic about Elvis Presley movies?
That was before her London apartment caved in on her causing a debilitating stroke and the subsequent weight gain that got her expelled from Hollywood’s A-list. Anyway, she’s back as the overprotective surgeon mother of a deathly-ill boy named Andy (Charlie Tahan) in IFC Midnight’s new suspense thriller, The Harvest.
Also returning from a long hiatus is director John McNaughton, the guy most known for creating Henry: Portrait of a serial killer, the movie he claimed wasn’t exploitation despite showing Michael Rooker stab his best buddy for 32 seconds before dismembering him in the bathtub.
The Harvest is the very antithesis of Henry. In fact, its run-of-the-mill locale, crisp photography and ominous music awakened memories of the after school specials of my pre-internet youth more so than McNaughton’s grisly bio pic. It’s bookmarked by Little League baseball scenes for crying out loud. Still, it’s everyday approach, chilling atmosphere and believable human nature transcend its commonalities. Horror films are always most effective when they meddle in the real world, when they conform to the conventions of morality. The Harvest eschews visceral anarchy for creepy tension. It stays within itself right up to a culminating scene involving a fire (which seems a bit out of place).
Natasha Calis heads an all-star cast that includes the aforementioned Morton, along with Michael Shannon and a wasted Peter Fonda as the naive grandfather who putters around saying, “Far out.” Calis plays Maryann, an inquisitive Veronica Mars-type who has recently moved in with her grandparents after a tragic accident claimed the lives of her mom and dad. When exploring, she taps on Andy’s bedroom window, ‘cause that’s what kids do when they stumble upon mysterious houses. Despite the protestations of his mother, the two embark on a burgeoning friendship that mostly includes playing video games.
You know something ain’t right with the cringe-worthy Morton and her wussy son. Consider a scene when she smashes his television as retribution for him sneaking outside to play catch with Maryann. So, a final twist is not quite awe-inspiring, but it’s still shocking enough to be satisfying.
The Harvest is a tough movie to categorize, which is probably the reason it sat on a shelf for two-and-a-half years. There’s enough there to give you the heebie-jeebies, but there’s also a coming-of-age element that resonates with the adventure-seeker in all of us. It’s not overly flashy or hip, it’s not particularly original, but it gets the job done and I’m happy to have seen it.