Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Guest Review: The Harvest (2015)

“Don’t Tell Mama:” The Harvest (2015)

By Jonas Schwartz

Like director John McNaughton’s first film Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990), The Harvest is a methodical study of insanity, as grief turns parents into monsters. Samantha Morton haunts as Dr. Katherine Young, an unstable mother driven insane by her need to save her dying son.

Prone to violent mood swings and cold irrationality, she makes the audience nervous during her quiet moments, and frazzled when she attacks. Just as unnerving is Michael Shannon as Katherine’s enabling husband, who knows she has crossed the line but allows her to continue her outrageous mission.

Orphan Maryann (Natasha Calis) moves in with her grandparents (Peter Fonda and Leslie Lyles), decent people who nonetheless mistaken her for a problem child, one who seeks attention. In reality, Maryann is a sensitive girl, courageous and curious. She meets her neighbor, Andy (Charlie Tahan), an invalid, lonely boy, and they become immediate friends.

Andy had been in isolation most of his life with only his odd parents as company. Mother Katherine at first tolerates Maryann but she eventually forbids the girl from visiting. Maryann refuses to take no for an answer, particularly when it’s obvious Andy needs the camaraderie.

Each visit discovered by Katherine causes more havoc as the doctor becomes further exasperated by the young visitor. Maryann discovers the secret Andy’s parents have been hiding, but her grandparents assume she’s acting out, making up stories. Maryann has been abandoned by the adults and only she can protect her young, defenseless friend from his own mother.

Though The Harvest has been marketed as a horror thriller, this is a slow burn film, one heightened by Morton’s character’s mood swings. Part Mommie Dearest (1980) part Misery (1990), Katherine Young is a basket case, one driven to the edge by her eternal love for her son and her terror that he will die. Katherine is never presented as evil, just utterly sick. Morton’s performance heightens that unbalance, leaving the audience terrified of her irrational, eventually violent, behavior.

As the henpecked husband, Michael Shannon has never appeared so frail. Usually a manic, hulking beast in Bug, Revolutionary Road and Take Shelter, he here plays someone so used to bowing to his wife, he has lost his moral center. This tragic being wants to do the right thing, but has no power over his wife.

Both Calis and Tahan are endearing child actors. They relay youthful vulnerability and a sense of bravery.

Director McNaughton doesn’t rely on tricks (the one twist is blatantly obvious) or gore to hook his viewers. He allows the actors to control the tension with penetrating results. The Harvest is a minor work but one worth discovering.

Jonas Schwartz is a voting member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics, and the West Coast Critic for TheaterMania. Check out his “Jonasat the Movies” reviews at Maryland Nightlife.

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