SXSW 2018: Elizabeth Harvest Review – A Fascinating Concept That Never Finds Its Footing
Starring Abbey Lee, Ciaran Hinds, Carla Gugino, Matthew Beard, Dylan Baker
Written by Sebastian Gutierrez
Directed by Sebastian Gutierrez
Cerebral sci-fi thrillers have made a resurgence in the past few years. Titles like Moon, Ex Machina, Annihilation and the like have been exciting and thrilling audiences with their philosophical introspections, challenging viewers with nuanced ideas that require deep thought and reflection. Elizabeth Harvest seems to want to share the stage with films of this caliber but, unfortunately, is unable to come close to such heady fare.
Elizabeth Harvest follows a scientist, Henry (Hinds) who brings his new bride, Elizabeth (Lee), to a stunningly beautiful and modern mansion secluded from everyone in all directions. There, she meets the help of the house, Claire (Gugino) and Oliver (Beard). Told that she is allowed to go anywhere and use anything she wants in her new home, Henry’s one rule for Elizabeth is that she is barred from one specific room. Offering no explanation but making it seem like forbidden fruit, it’s no surprise that Elizabeth ends up wandering into that room during the night. It’s here that she finds clones of herself and sets off the rage of Henry, who stalks her throughout the now claustrophobic house.
While this sounds like an interesting film, what I’ve just described is the first 15 or so minutes of a near two-hour movie. To try and spice things up, the big reveal is that Elizabeth finds a clone of herself in the banned room, which is a sterile and cold laboratory. The story then unfolds that Elizabeth is a clone of Henry’s wife who passed away from a rare disease and Henry has created these clones to see if he can find and administer a cure. Except, for some reason, Henry is now more interested in using them for his own sadistic sport. And no, this isn’t relayed effectively.
The first 15 or so minutes of Elizabeth Harvest, interestingly, could have worked as a standalone short film. From there, the movie goes into explanation after explanation after explanation, trying bring everything together in a cohesive story but only spreading everything too thinly.
Visually, the movie is quite beautiful. The modern home serves as both a warm abode as well as a chilling sarcophagus. Gutierrez clearly takes inspiration from Argento’s love of color and De Palma’s love of split screens. Hinds and Beard are certainly very strong, although they pale in comparison to the Lee and Gugino’s exceptional performances. Still, this very pretty and well-acted film that doesn’t have a consistent story will leave fans confused and frustrated.
The most frustrating aspect of Elizabeth Harvest is that it has a fascinating concept but it simply flounders about with no idea of where to take it. Great performances can’t save a story that fails to have an impact.