Review Index



Strong and unsettling kid centered psycho-horror by HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLERíS John McNaughton, who was in top, if not quite peak, form.

The Package
     This 2015 film was the first feature directed by John McNaughton since 2001ís SPEAKING OF SEX. Completed in 2013, THE HARVEST wasnít released in the US until two years later, despite generally good reviews. The good news is that itís now readily available on DVD and Blu-ray, so you have no excuse not to check it out!

The Story
     Andy is a severely ill boy looked after by his heart surgeon mother Katherine and father Richard in upstate New York. Katherine is cold and apathetic, while Richard is quite cowed--and having an affair with a younger woman.
     The lonely and inquisitive orphan Maryann is living nearby with her grandparents. She finds her way to Andyís house, and visits him by climbing through his bedroom window. Katherine takes an immediate dislike to Maryann, and orders her not to come around any more. But Maryann, being the impulsive sort she is, continues her bedroom window visits. At one point she gets caught inside the house when Katherine returns home from work, and winds up hiding in the cellar. There she discovers a boy on life support in a makeshift hospital room.
     Maryann manages to escape through a window, and upon arriving back home searches the internet. She learns that a baby was kidnapped from a local hospital years earlier whose features appear to correspond to those of the comatose boy in the basement. Clearly Richard and especially Katherine are up to something nefarious involving kidnapping, organ harvesting and switched identities--and yes, there is a twist in store.

The Direction
     Whatís most striking about this film is its quiet, non-aggressive atmosphere. This is a problem in the opening scenes, which lack urgency. The film, in fact, takes around 10-15 minutes to grab hold (with the opening scene of a kid getting injured during a baseball game an admitted non-sequiter), but once it does THE HARVEST proves quite engrossing.
     Itís driven by the towering performance of Samantha Morton as Katherine. Anyone whoís ever spent time around crazy people (as I have) will recognize the sudden mood swings and impulsive acting out that drive the character. The always-formidable Michael Shannon is nearly as strong as Katherineís weak-willed worse half, and Natasha Calis and Charlie Tahan, veteran kid actors both, do fine work as Maryann and Andy, admirably holding their own with the grown-ups.
     The script by Stephen Lancellotti isnít always up to the high standards set by McNaughton and the cast. Itís often quite predictable, and there are noticeable implausibilities, such as a basement window left conveniently open and the fact that it takes Andy so damn long to figure out his abusive parents might not have his best interests at heart.
     Inevitably the film goes completely over the top in the final scenes, involving a sudden change of heart by one of protagonists, an overly fortuitous appearance by another and a thoroughly implausible foot chase. Itís here that the material grows overtly horrific, which in this case is a shame, as it works best as a dark character-based drama, which is of course is precisely the type of film John McNaughton does best.

Vital Statistics

Living Out Loud Films/Das Films/Elephant Eye Films

Director: John McNaughton
Producers: Steven A. Jones, Kimberly Jose, David Robinson, Meadow Williams
Screenplay: Stephen Lancellotti
Cinematography: Rachel Morrison
Editing: Bill Pankow
Cast: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan, Peter Fonda, Leslie Lyles, Meadow Williams, Journey Smith, Nolan Lyons