Directed by John McNaughton
Distributed by Living Out Loud Productions
Just because a movie has an itemized genre label of being horror, you don’t necessarily need a psychotic clown or a band of rampaging zombies tearing up the ruins of a city destroyed by the Apocalypse to scare you to the core. All you need is a simple scenario with two commanding characters and an underlying secret that is revealed once the heavy veil of deception is pulled aside, and there you have it – instant terror.
Two massive determining factors led me to jump on this review of The Harvest: 1) Michael Shannon has got to be one of the most underrated actors working in Hollywood today. Seriously, the guy could knock a performance out of the park in a trash bag commercial; he’s simply THAT good. 2) The film was directed by John McNaughton, who 28 years ago delivered a psychotic entity directly to our front doors in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer , an absolutely staggering debut in a directorial fashion. So why NOT take on this task?
The movie takes a look at the dark side of parenting, although you’d never realize just how aphotic the situation is until you’ve entered the home of Richard (Shannon) and his wife, Katherine (Morton), a pediatric heart surgeon who has dedicated her life to caring for their gravely ill son, Andy (Tahan). While Katherine plugs away at acting as Andy’s primary caregiver, Richard has recently quit his job to spend as much time as possible with his son. But he instead seems to have lost focus with his child and is spending time with a shapely drug representative who is filling more than just Andy’s bootleg prescriptions (if you’re pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down!).
Between Richard and Katherine, you could freeze ice cubes in the midst of a heat wave, considering all of the tension in their lives, but they manage to deliver at least the bulk of their time to the attention of their son, who is confined to a wheelchair and fights for every single breath that he takes. The level of care that they show for Andy is overshadowed by the fact that he is sheltered – a lonely boy who is home-schooled due to his illness but also never allowed to grasp the joys of being a child, such as playing catch with his father, mainly because Katherine, in her dogged pursuit to keep her child healthy, will NEVER allow him to be put at risk.
Enter the new kid in town – MaryAnne (Natasha Calis), who’s now residing with her grandparents (Leslie Lyles and Peter Fonda in a stoic performance) and comes to befriend Andy when she sees him one day in his bedroom window. This window will come to serve as an entry point for MaryAnne in her many unscheduled visits to spend time with her new pal, much to the chagrin of Andy’s mom… there’s the “nice” way of telling someone that they’ve overstayed their welcome, and then there’s Katherine’s method.
MaryAnne remains determined to help Andy break out of his enfeebled state and give him the chance to breathe that cherished outside air that he’s been deprived of for so long. The results of Andy and MaryAnne’s exploits not only continue to drive a further wedge between Katherine and Richard but start to unravel the already loose fixtures of Katherine’s fragile mental makeup, turning her into a part-time unsound individual. When she flips the rage switch to the “on” position, it’s better to be viewing her actions from a distance.
However, the question remains, WHY is she getting so upset about her child meeting a new friend and displaying signs of a renewed vital spark? In order to not screw the remainder of this tense thriller, I’ll keep the rest of these shocking details under cover until you check out the film for yourself, but rest assured: The overplus of this story is as distressing as it is saddening. The burden that weighs on the shoulders of the parents is commensurate to the actions that they commit to keep Andy alive so get ready to be knocked on your keester.
Outside of the trepidation that surrounds the viewer, and makes this movie a winner, it’s the performances that dominate the full 104-minute runtime – while Shannon will forever be entrenched in super villain history as the tyrannical Zod in Man of Steel, his efforts in the highly underrated 2014 drama Take Shelter are eerily reminiscent to his role in this film. Here he plays a father who is slowly realizing that his only son is slipping away and sleepwalks through life, be it in a daze of emotion or sullen overload, both of which are demonstrated to perfection. Samantha Morton exudes consternation as a mother who has clearly reached her ideological confines, converting at times from the professional doctor with an atypical bedside manner to a raving and completely illogical personage, thus providing the rivets that hold this movie’s vehemence in check.
When all is done and the credits have rolled, The Harvest is a film that will hold you to your seat and give you a subdued, yet tightly-stretched thriller that will not only entertain but lead you to question the motives of a couple of parents whose best laid plans could be the undoing of many involved.
7 1/2 out of 5