‘I dreamt I would meet a brilliant man. I would steal his breath away, and he in turn would steal me away from everything ugly into a secret world of our own.’
From the opening voice-over, you just know something sinister is afoot.
You’re welcomed into the picturesque world of newly weds’ Elizabeth (Abbey Lee – Mad Max: Fury Road, The Neon Demon) and her Nobel Prize winning scientist husband, Henry (Ciaran Hinds – The Woman in Black, Rome), as they arrive at his sprawling estate – a high-tech glass mansion hidden neatly away at the end of a long dirt road. Elizabeth is introduced to live-in house-staff, Oliver (Matthew Beard) a blind 18 year old, and Claire (Carla Gugino), a quiet and mysterious lady, before being showered with new gifts and intimate dinners. A fairytale honeymoon, or so it would seem.
Until it’s time for the good ol’ grand tour…
This is a hard film to review without giving away some, or indeed any, of the many twists and turns that are littered throughout this sci-fi/horror , but writer/Director, Sebastian Gutierrez (Girl Walks Into a Bar), effectively builds curiosity during the first ten to fifteen minutes with long drawn out scenes that linger on faces and scenery while planting an ominous mood but never a sure-fire tone; because right now, you’re not really sure what you’re in for..
Henry takes Elizabeth around the home showing her everything that’s now hers, all the money, all the jewels; everywhere she can go, except one room, and under no circumstances must she ever enter that room. That’s the rule; that’s the trust expectedbetween husband and wife. The following day Henry leaves on a business trip, and, yup, you guessed it.. because who wouldn’t, right?
This is where the film really opens up and throws you head first into the violent and chaotic madness; but unfortunately, when that door is opened, everything the director worked so hard on to build this slow and suspicious narrative is lost to the delirium; and I’d be inclined to give you a pass for thinking that familiar thought of “Wow. That escalated quickly”.
From here we’re treated to dribs and drabs of plot points and revelations that are all familiar, but I can’t help but praise Guiterrez for going the long-way around a simple theme and trying to make it something a little different. I can’t really give much away after this point because it will spoil the film, and this is one of those movies that it’s best to experience barely knowing a thing.
The real star of the show here is Abbey Lee, whom I think has brought one of the most nuanced performances of 2019, so far, to the big screen, channelling the innocence of Sissy Spacek’s Carrie White and the initial fragility of Shelly Duvall’s Wendy Torrance. In fact, you only realise how captivating and powerful it is after all the puzzle pieces have fallen into place and the end credits are rolling. She’s supported by a handful of recognisable veterans who carry their parts off with ease, helping to lift the film to some of its inconsistent heights.
One thing I will say, Elizabeth Harvest is beautifully shot – with a colour palette to rival Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy – every scene bathing in hues of reds, oranges and blues. But even with all the technical accomplishments that flourish, Elizabeth Harvest bogs itself down with countless twists and turns that eventually become repetitive and predictable, with imagination and creativity taking a back seat in the latter half of the film.
If you’re a little more than a casual movie viewer, you’ll pick up on some nicely placed nods to a few suspense classics that include Hitchcock and De Palma, which are always fun to spot, although don’t worry if you’re not and you’re just checking out a new horror release, because this has enough to keep genre fans engaged and satisfied.
Ultimately, Elizabeth Harvest is a film that loses itself in its own intricacies and convoluted plot, but has enough highs and shocks to keep you teetering on the edge of your seat.
Oh, and if you want a little more to go on… (Look away now if you don’t…)
It’s all in the title… Laurence Drew