Directed by John McNaughton
Opens April 10 at IFC Center
Trash (not garbage) distinguished by its zesty self-awareness, The Harvest is a child-endangerment thriller about all the evil done in the name of good parenting. Young Maryann (Natasha Calis), newly orphaned and transplanted to live with her grandparents, ventures through a neighbor’s window to make the acquaintance of Andy (Charlie Tahan), gravely but nonspecifically ill and equally lonesome from long confinement to his bed and wheelchair. Their budding friendship is soon stifled, however, by Katherine (Samantha Morton), Andy’s mother and doctor, who insists on his complete isolation.
Normally an actor of palpable warmth, Morton calls on her inner Mommie Dearest to henpeck nurse husband Richard (Michael Shannon), maintaining a rigid affect that seems to be perpetually holding back an eruption. Shannon, capable of unhinging himself more persuasively than most actors working today, plays against type as a stabilizing force. Their performances are the heart of the movie, together painting a marriage as wholesome as the Macbeths’.
Though his best-known pictures, Wild Things and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, are both minor classics of self-reflexive exploitation, The Harvest is director John McNaughton’s first feature to reach theaters in over a decade. His knack for finding the sinister beneath Hallmark-card sentiment makes his return a welcome one, but his languishing commercial fortunes are not exactly a surprise: a cult director without a cult, McNaughton doesn’t so much wink at his audience as waggle his eyebrows. Depending on the character of the viewer, it’s possible to enjoy his films without appreciating their irony, or to reproach them for the same reason.
Giving shape to unspoken anxieties without allaying them, The Harvest is Dateline by way of Rosemary’s Baby. Too sedate to win over most horror junkies and likely to be dismissed as campy and histrionic by an indie set that prefers to take its subversion spoon-fed, The Harvest is a long shot to give McNaughton’s career the jump-start it deserves, but it should ensure he has more opportunities to lace pablum with moral uncertainty and disconcerting ambiguity.