Tag Archives: children in peril

The Harvest

The Harvest
The Harvest

Director: John McNaughton

Writer: Stephen Lancellotti

Cast: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan

USA 2013

104 mins

Children in peril and dysfunctional families were a running thread throughout Film4 FrightFest this year, and like another heavyweight of the festival, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, John McNaughton’s The Harvest involved monstrous motherly love, self-reliant children and dark secrets in the basement. After a 13-year absence from big screens, the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer proves here that he remains a master at plumbing the depths of twisted human behaviour.

A fairy tale of sorts (McNaughton said in the Q&A afterwards that the film’s structure was loosely based on ‘Hansel and Gretel’), The Harvest centres on a doctor, Katherine (Samantha Morton), overprotective mother to a sick child (Charlie Tahan), for whom she obsessively cares with her husband and former nurse Richard (Michael Shannon) in a country house. But when Maryann (Natasha Calis), a recently orphaned girl, moves into the area and befriends the wheelchair-bound Andy, she dangerously upsets the fragile balance of the family and forces its secrets out.

Samantha Morton is extraordinary as the woman turned ogress by hurt, alternately tender and terrifying, while Michael Shannon is remarkably nuanced as the weak husband complicit in his wife’s terrible decisions. Together they form a horribly believable couple bound by tragedy and guilt, capable of anything to protect their family, with only Maryann standing up to them.

The story assuredly simmers until the pace quickens and the tale turns increasingly disturbing. McNaughton skilfully toys with the audience, leading us in one direction before making a sharp turn into entirely unexpected territory, revealing a truth far darker and a love more perverted than could have been imagined.

Set among beautiful autumnal woods, the film, like its title, gives a deceptive appearance of bucolic melancholy, only belatedly revealing its full horror. A slow-burn that stubbornly follows its own path, it is an impressively mature and weighty return to cinema for John McNaughton.

This review is part of our Film4 FrightFest 2014 coverage.

Pamela Jahn

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The Babadook

The Babadook
The Babadook

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 October 2014

Distributor: Icon Distribution

Director: Jennifer Kent

Writer: Jennifer Kent

Cast: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinny

Australia 2014

93 mins

The Babadook website

Championed by Rosie Fletcher, editor of Total Film, The Babadook was the big discovery of this year’s Film 4 FrightFest. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it is an oppressive Australian drama that uses a children’s story to talk about the monsters that lurk in the dark corners of the mind.

The Babadook is released in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 February 2015 by Icon Distribution.

Essie Davis gives a masterful performance as Amelia, the downtrodden mother who lost her husband in a car crash the day she gave birth to their son. Sam (Noah Wiseman) is a troubled, anxious young boy dangerously obsessed with fighting monsters. One night, Sam finds a mysterious book on a shelf in his bedroom. Puzzled, Amelia reads him the story of The Babadook, which becomes increasingly sinister and threatening as they turn the pages. Soon, it seems that by opening the book they have indeed invited a dark force into their house.

Skilfully directed, the film is perfectly poised between real and unreal and manages to be both emotionally rich and disturbingly creepy, remaining ambiguous to the end. The Babadook is a great new monster, both childish and chilling with its striking silhouette and unnerving cry. Under its spell, roles shift to reveal that things may not be as straightforward as they had first appeared.

The relationship between mother and son is beautifully complex and poignant, and Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are compelling to watch, shifting between various moods with nuance and conviction. Initially agitated and irritating, Sam becomes sweet and brave when Amelia has to confront the monster. And while at first he appeared to have behavioural problems that isolated him from other children, it soon looks like he may understand the situation much more lucidly than the adults around him.

Confirming the subtlety and profound individuality of her approach, Kent refuses to follow conventions and ends her film in an entirely unexpected and heart-breakingly resonant manner. As the book says, once the Babadook is in, you can never get rid of it. But you can learn to live with it.

This review is part of our Film4 FrightFest 2014 coverage.

Virginie Sélavy

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