The HarvestDirector: John McNaughton.

Cast: Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan, Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Peter Fonda, Leslie Lyles.

Certificate: TBC.

Running Time: 104 minutes.

Synopsis: Maryann (Calis) moves in with her grandparents after the death of her mother and father. She soon makes friends with a local sick boy (Tahan) who is confined to his home by his overbearing mother (Morton). As the two embark on a forbidden friendship, the mother seems to become more and more intense.

FrightFest has been a place of just as many laughs as it has been scares this year, but one film that aims to keep things very serious indeed. Director of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, John McNaughton, returns to supply one of the best films of the festival this year. THE HARVEST is an amazing achievement on many levels, not least that this is solid drama with a horror edge.

Starting off as a cute young adult movie about friendships and living life, there are many parralels to make with films such as THE MIGHTY and BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA. Things are cute as a young girl bonds with a sickly homebound boy, only for the overprotective mother to become scared and frightened at what might happen to her boy. The father tries to reach the mother about how being alive isn’t the same as living, and this could very well end on a happy note where everybody learns a valuable lesson. That would be swell, but THE HARVEST takes us on a dark journey into the obsession of being a parent and the disturbing places people will go to protect their own children.

McNaughton has assembled a credible cast to bring weight and pathos to every role. Morton is stunning as the overbearing mother who at first balances strict callousness with seething contempt, before gradually pushing herself further and further. Shannon is incredibly restrained and gives perhaps his best ever performance. He’s kind and caring and there’s a warmth that speaks straight to the audience. His physical presence works as a visual representation of Morton’s inner struggles. Morton is such a force to be reckoned with that although her character inspires hatred, you’ll refrain from calling her a “bitch” on the off chance she’s sitting right behind you. Child actors Calis and Tahan also manage to hold their own against such dramatic titans, giving the film the chemistry and love that makes those intense sequences all the more gripping.

THE HARVEST works best when knowing very little about it as the unpredictability of Morton’s actions worm their way into the plot. This is a welcome return to the unbalanced female roles of MISERY and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. In a world where zombies and vampires dominate the horror genre, Morton proves that an unhinged mother is scarier than any type of fictional beast, taking us back to the days when Hitchcock revealed man to be the most terrifying of all monsters in his seminal PSYCHO.

With hiding behind doors and races against time almost unbearably tense, McNaughton also impresses by including no adult material. There is no sex, no bad language, and no gore to speak of, just spine tingling situations of awkwardness and fear. It plays on our fears of being mistreated by those meant to protect us, as well as a sense of being trapped. Andy (Tahan) is trapped both physically and emotionally, heightened by the fact the family home is also rather secluded. Shot in a beautiful area of crisp golden woods and thick tree growth, we’re presented with a location that offers both freedom and isolation.

This is an award worthy and stunning film that takes us back to an age where the terror is completely at the hands of the actors and their performances. Do yourself a favour, don’t read about it, don’t watch the trailer, just make sure you see THE HARVEST. A powerful drama with nerve wracking tension and unforgettable performances.

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