Elizabeth Harvest (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
It is said that curiosity killed the cat, but one actually sits through “Elizabeth Harvest,” written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez, and one could not be blamed for theorizing that it could be due to coma-inducing boredom. For a story that’s quite labyrinthine with its plotting, not to mention the true identity of its key players, the screenplay lacks genuine intrigue necessary to compel viewers into paying close attention. Should you choose to sign up for this, prepare for a sci-fi thriller that moves at a snail’s pace which offers few rewards, if any.
There is nothing wrong with the five performances. There is a translucent quality to Abbey Lee’s portrayal of the titular character, a woman who dreams of getting married and being whisked away from her problems. There is feline-like feel in the way she looks directly at the camera when required and the manner in which she moves her limbs when she senses danger. Ciarán Hinds plays the husband who is at least thirty years Elizabeth’s senior. Henry is a brilliant scientist, a billionaire, living in an isolated and palatial home. The couple shares no chemistry—which is appropriate—and the two actors try their best to make the two pieces fit.
This terrific disconnect, however, is not mired to perfection by the writer-director. Instead, the film proves reliant upon twists and turns instead of establishing a Kubrick-ian feel to the place, that this lonely estate atop the mountains is pregnant with dark and unimaginable secrets. Also notice how we are never provided a mental map of the residence. A handful of chases occur, but the whole charade comes across as though it had been shot in a studio. Although luxurious items abound, there is a cheap quality about the would-be exciting sequences. When all else fails, the score pummels the eardrums. Surely we deserve better.
There are three more performances. Henry lives with his son, Oliver (Matthew Beard), who is blind, and Claire (Carla Gugino), the housekeeper. Right from the get-go, we look at the body language and eyes of Oliver and Claire—it is without question they know something… strange is taking place. Beard and Gugino play their characters like close fists… until they are not. Somewhat of an interesting angle is who these people actually are, specifically their perspective in regard to the sick goings-on in Henry’s haute couture house of horrors. Had the screenplay functioned on a higher level, a case could be made that Oliver and Claire’s stories—together and only together—is the heart of the film. Them being pawns to whatever charade is going on, but deciding to partake anyway, is what makes the story human and therefore interesting.
The last performance is by Dylan Baker who plays a cop named Logan. He drops in from time to time to check on… curious activities. He wishes to interview the new wife (the script does not provide a sensical reason) but she always seem to be napping in the middle of the afternoon. Until one day, it is Henry who is supposedly asleep. Baker is the most underused of the bunch—a head-scratcher because the actor is capable of racking up tension, for example, with the slightest alteration in posture, a look, or cadence in his voice. But this is unsurprising because the screenplay has a habit of choosing easy thrills over effective, crafty, slow-boil suspense.
I found not one cinematic quality in “Elizabeth Harvest,” a movie with two or three neat ideas that touch upon concepts like love and obsession, identity and freedom, science and ethics. And not once did I feel like I was in the hands of a storyteller who is savagely smart—about the genre, the oft tread themes it tackles, or film as medium in general. There is nothing special in the way this project is put together or presented. I checked the clock a total of three times.