THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
John McNaughton made a name for himself with his debut film, 1986's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. He went on to direct a few other, less well-received pictures, including Mad Dog & Glory, Wild Things, and the underrated Normal Life. After the 2001 non-release of his picture Speaking of Sex, McNaughton took over a decade off from feature filmmaking and focused his attention on television. He re-emerged on the festival circuit in 2013 with The Harvest, which had a limited theatrical/on-demand run earlier this year. The movie comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on Sept. 1 from Scream Factory.
Samantha Morton plays Katherine, a surgeon who lives in a rural town with her nurse husband Richard (Michael Shannon) and ill son Andy (Charlie Tahan). Andy suffers from some kind of condition that limits his movement and confines him mostly to a wheelchair. Richard would like him to practice walking, but Katherine refuses to allow it. One day, a girl named Maryann (Natasha Calis) moves in with her grandparents (Peter Fonda and Leslie Lyles) just down the road. She befriends Andy, despite Katherine's repeated attempts to discourage her son from having any socialization with anyone. Maryann eventually finds out that there's a deeply disturbing reason for this.
The Harvest is a real slow-burn kind of thriller. Maybe even a little too slow-burn. It takes a full fifty minutes before we're given so much as a clue as to what Katherine and Richard are up to. (Astute viewers will be able to guess the story's big twist at about the 75-minute mark.) To its credit, the movie is building and establishing things that will pay off later on, yet it takes so long to get cooking that it occasionally breeds impatience. The Harvest would have been a killer 90-minute picture, rather than one stretched out to nearly two hours.
That said, it's hard to deny that, once it really gets going, the story is massively creepy. The secret shared by Katherine and Richard creates suspense as it unfolds in increasingly horrific ways that put several characters in grave danger. There's an interesting dynamic between these two individuals. We sense that their marriage would have been dissolved already were it not for that secret. Once Maryann stumbles upon it, they can no longer keep their actions hidden, which means that all the animosity, desperation, and malice come pouring out. The horrors they are outwardly perpetrating are revealed to be driven by horrors within themselves. This is the kind of movie where the scares are generated from a place of identifiable human emotion, rather than from blood, gore, or cheap shock moments.
The performances are generally quite good. Michael Shannon plays against type as a mild-mannered guy who is trapped under the thumb of his domineering wife. Charlie Tahan and Natasha Calis, meanwhile, create a very credible friendship between Andy and Maryann that makes the suspenseful scenes even more effective. Samantha Morton, on the other hand, is a bit one-note, but that's not really her fault. The screenplay doesn't give her more than one note to play. Katherine is an obsessed-at-all-costs nutcase the entire time.
The Harvest would have been better with some tightening and by giving Katherine more than a single angle. Those are considerable flaws. At the same time, there's enough here to make for some decent home viewing. It's not perfect, but The Harvest earns a few points for ambition.
The only bonus feature on the disc is the theatrical trailer.
For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Harvest is unrated, but contains language, violence, and some sexual material. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.
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