Official Selection, Chicago International Film Festival 2013 (Special Screening)
“I felt the script contained the bones of a fairy tale and could be shaped into a serious and disturbing film dealing with the classic themes featured in stories like ‘Hansel and Gretel’. THE HARVEST to me is very much about the deepest of childhood fears and the great struggle required to escape parental oppression on the path to maturity.” – Director John McNaughton
Katherine (Samantha Morton) is a pediatric heart surgeon, left with no choice but to take her work home after hours when her son Andy (Charlie Tahan) becomes gravely, gravely ill. She and her husband Richard (Michael Shannon) spend every available minute tending to their bedridden child, gambling on experimental treatments and in the process, keeping him smothered and locked away from the world. Their hermetically sealed universe begins to tear when a young neighbour (Natasha Calis) befriends Andy from the other side of his bedroom window, eventually breaking in and keeping him company. His parents react with an anger that goes beyond a question of simple protectiveness. Their care begins to dissolve into something dangerously close to resentment. We’ll reveal no more but do know that if you’re the type unable to handle intense child-in-peril sequences, this disturbing powerhouse may very well give you a heart attack.
In 1986, former carnival worker John McNaughton changed the shape of the modern horror film with his devastating breakout HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. Over the years that followed, he emerged with a confrontational series of singular works depicting the grifts and struggles that take place in the shadows of American life, most notably MAD DOG AND GLORY, NORMAL LIFE and WILD THINGS. THE HARVEST marks the maverick filmmaker’s long-awaited return to feature filmmaking after a 13-year absence. It’s also his first overt horror film since 1991’s THE BORROWER.
One of the hallmarks of McNaughton’s work is his remarkable ability with actors, guiding them into raw, honest performances from dangerous places of emotional holocaust. For his comeback, the filmmaker assembled a brave dream cast, all of whom are positively fearless here. Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon (TAKE SHELTER, MAN OF STEEL), never a neutral screen presence, is in ferocious top form. Matching him beat for beat is the always-brilliant — and also Oscar-nominated — Samantha Morton (MORVERN CALLAR, MINORITY REPORT). Rounding out the celebrity cast is none other than the immortal Peter Fonda (EASY RIDER, THE TRIP), yet the film’s biggest revelations is the pair of extraordinarily gifted young actors at its core, Natasha Calis (THE POSSESSION, DAYDREAM NATION) and FRANKENWEENIE himself, Charlie Tahan (BLUE JASMINE). Crafted through their gut-wrenching performances, McNaughton spins a highly unusual tale that in weaker hands could have played as something over-the-top, yet here it comes at you with a grounded, frightening urgency that will have many watching from behind trembling fingers. A surprising story told in twists, tears and blood, THE HARVEST exists in a disquieting median space between sinister fairy tale and shattering human horror. It is a welcome return for one of American indie cinema’s darkest voices.
— Mitch Davis