The Harvest (2014)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

What greater signifier could there be of all-American normality than a baseball game? The Harvest opens with a Little League match in the weekend sun, suddenly disrupted when young pitcher Bobby is accidentally struck hard in the chest and has to be rushed to hospital, his vitals crashing. Still in her scrubs from the emergency surgery, Dr Katherine Young (Samantha Morton) comes out to tell Bobby’s terrified mother, “Your son is going to be okay.”

A dying child. A desperate mother. A messianic doctor. Baseball. All the key themes of The Harvest are laid out in this prologue. For Katherine has her own son, ailing and near death. Andy (Charlie Tahan) is wheelchair-bound, sickly, constantly tired, and certainly unable to play baseball except on the videogame console in his bedroom. Maintained on a regime of pills, he is both schooled and treated by Katherine at home, while her husband Richard (Michael Shannon) has given up his job as a nurse to look after his son. “All we do is exist to sustain him,” Richard confesses to his only outside friend (Meadow Williams). “It isn’t good for any of us.”

Into this closed household comes Maryann (Natasha Calis). After the tragic death of both her parents, she has moved in with her grandparents (Peter Fonda, Leslie Lyles) – themselves still grieving the tragic loss of their own son – in the house across the creek from where Andy lives. Maryann befriends the boy, but finds his parents – in particular Katherine – overprotective and obstructive. Forbidden to see Andy, Maryann visits him one last time, and discovers a secret in the basement that will change everything and test her mettle in an adult world.

The Harvest is in part a sensitive study of parental desperation – and children’s resilience – in the face of death, and in part a psychological thriller (with fairytale elements) told from a girl’s and boy’s mature yet only half-comprehending perspective. Painstakingly built on symmetries and ambiguities, Stephen Lancelotti’s debut script presents a domestic scenario where tragedy and grief form a cover for deep, destructive dysfunction. The performances here are suitably nuanced, in particular from Shannon as an essentially decent yet weak-willed father trapped in a course of action begun long ago which can offer no good outcome, and from Morton as a mother who has become lost in her willingness to do anything that will keep her son alive. The truth, once out, is truly disturbing, but the strong focus on character ensures that this most human of horrors never loses its affecting sadness. Long absent from the big screen, director John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Mad Dog and Glory) has returned with a home run.

Anton Bitel