Sunday, 20 July 2014

THE HARVEST - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Samantha Morton porks into the New Kathy Bates - @FantAsia2014

Ladies and Gentlemen,
presenting the heir apparent to Kathy Bates in MISERY:
Samantha Morton in THE HARVEST.

The Harvest (2013) ***
Dir. John McNaughton
Starring: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Peter Fonda, Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A pudgy, pushy small town doctor (Samantha Morton) and her subservient hubby (Michael Shannon), a male nurse no less, are treating their terminally ill little boy (Charlie Tahan) at home. The lad is very lonely. When he's befriended by a new girl in the neighbourhood (Natasha Calis), Porcine Mama gets her back up and refuses to let her son have a friend. Kids will be kids, though, and they persist in surreptitious play-dates. This annoys Mama to no end and she becomes even more unhinged than when we first met her.

She foists verbal, psychological and eventually physical abuse on her crippled dying son. Dad, being a male nurse, and therefore (of course) subservient, can barely stick up for the lad. It doesn't take too long for Samantha Morton to give Kathy Bates in Misery a run for her money in the psycho sweepstakes. As well, Morton is porking out to Bates dimensions, though it's still a case of close, but no cigar in the chub department.

This very strange film feels like an ABC Movie of the Week from the 70s. This is not necessarily a bad thing since there were plenty of decent thrillers to come out of that wave of small-screen cinema. That said, The Harvest isn't in Duel territory, but closer to the vicinity of Bad Ronald, Crowhaven Farm, A Taste of Evil, The Failing of Raymond, Revenge and any number of others which blended melodrama with suspense and often starred actresses just slightly out of their prime like Shelley Winters, Jane Wyman, Suzanne Pleshette, Hope Lange, Barbara Stanwyck - all of whom delivering terrific performances in spite of either chubbing out and/or indulging in too much plastic surgery.

And Samantha Morton is no slouch in conveying the requisite just-past-prime-time evil harridan gymnastics. It's impossible to take one's eyes of Morton - not for the same reasons 17-years-ago when she charmed us in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown, but rather because her commitment and intensity is full-steam-ahead evil. She creates a seemingly flawed, but ultimately psychopathic child abuser and as the film progresses and reveals, something a whole lot worse. It's a great performance.

Sadly, the rest of the cast just isn't quite up to her level of thespian muscle-flexing. Michael Shannon, stout yeoman as always, is genuinely good, but it's painful to watch him slinking around so cretinously. Yes, I know, I know. He's playing a MALE nurse and as such, can only convey a subservience that's in line with that of a whinging castrato.

The real problem are the child actors. They have no chemistry, zero screen presence and their abilities fall somewhere in the contemporary continuing TV series range of acting. Given the importance of these characters to the film, their sub-par emoting really drags the movie down.

The Harvest just doesn't have the old snap, crackle and pop stylistics of the director John McNaughton of old. He handles the suspense admirably enough, but visually, the movie seems flat and a bit lifeless. This is certainly a far cry from the man who gave us Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and (hubba-hubba) Wild Things. Clearly he wanted to stretch his wings here into some manner of To Kill a Mockingbird territory, but it ends up just feeling a bit dirge-like. Given that we're dealing with a fat harridan abusing her crippled terminally ill child, where in the hell is the humour? I'm not kidding. This movie needed some genuinely nasty nyuck-nyucks.

I will say, I did - in spite of everything - enjoy Stephen Lancellotti's writing. The screenplay initially offers an original take on the thriller genre, but about halfway through the movie when I was able to easily piece together where it was ultimately going, I felt like I was just putting in time on the old punch clock. Predictability reigned supreme and each mark it hit that I assumed it would hit, felt like a traitorous stab in the gut.

It seems like McNaughton wanted to be a kinder, gentler genre filmmaker with The Harvest, but I do hope this is a temporary aberration on his part. The melodrama is all there, but the grimy, gritty and dirty sludge bath one really wants from a picture like this is woefully missing.

The Harvest had its International Premiere at the 2014 FantAsia International Film Festival in Montreal.