If you told me that one day the man behind Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, of of the most sadistic and psychologically tormenting films of all time, would return to the horror genre after a far too long absence and craft a movie that could be the perfect gateway film for kids ages 10 to 12 looking to get their feet wet, I would have told you to check your medication. Yet that’s just what John McNaughton has done with THE HARVEST, a rare kids horror film that has the capacity to terrify their parents just as much. The Harvest manages to deliver an all time great villain while working in a fantastic swerve that manages to set the whole film on its ear.
The Harvest centers on Andy, a young, sickly boy confined to a wheel chair who constantly dreams of the larger world around him, and Mary Anne, a recently orphaned girl who has come to live with her grandparents (including the legendary Peter Fonda in a strong supporting role). A friendship begins to blossom between the two for the simple reason that they are two outcasts that found one another. Yet despite a seemingly benign friendship based on a love for XBOX baseball games, Andy’s mother is determined to keep the young girl away from her son, and to press on with her controversial treatment to cure him. She is determined to keep the boy all to her self, and works to drive a wedge between Andy and anyone else who might care for his well being.
The most striking aspect of The Harvest is just how strong the performances are across the board. Michael Shannon is his normal terrific self as the boy’s father, worn down and reduced to an emotional nub from the stress of the family situation and the constant verbal abuse his wife subjects him to. Young actors Natasha Calis and Charlie Tahan are outstanding at the two leads. They share a tremendous chemistry and their performances make you remember how easy it used to be to make a friend when all you had in common was local geography and a need for companionship.
However, the real show stopper is the performance from Samantha Morton as Katherine, the boy’s mother. Morton channels all the ugly characteristics of the wicked step-mothers from Grimm’s fairy tales, bringing a psychological ugliness to life on screen. Even in the moments where you’re led to believe she is acting in Andy’s best interest, there’s little more than malicious intent behind her eyes, and words that are coolly calculated to inflict stinging barbs of the supposed fools she has to suffer. As The Harvest progresses so does Katherine’s dementia, and Morton takes her character to depraved levels. In doing so, she creates one of the best female antagonists since Annie Wilkes in Misery.
I cannot sing the praises of The Harvest enough. McNaughton has created a cautionary fairy tale regarding parental love turned sour. It’s a terrific film for fans of any age, but given the opportunity, it has the chance to find a receptive audience with the younger generations (for concerned parents, there’s virtually no blood and very little violence) just looking for a good scare.