Three minutes in to Sebastian Gutierrez’s (Snakes on a Plane, Hotel Noir) Elizabeth Harvest and it is already apparent something is not entirely right. There is something a little off-kilter about it, the dialogue strangely florid and almost rehearsed, as if we were watching the characters acting out other characters. This atmosphere of something being subtly wrong is punctuated sharply and brutally at around the twenty minute mark, and from that point on the film plays with the audience’ assumptions about how things are going to go.
This film was a genuine surprise, and by the halfway point any attempts at trying to puzzle out the ultimate end of the plot are largely pointless, it’s better to simply strap in and enjoy the ride to the end. That is not to say that the plot is particularly complicated, it really is not and frankly as is becoming all too common these days, the trailer hints just a little too much at the plot twist. Though is it really a plot twist if it’s revealed in the first 15 minutes of the film?
It open on a new bride, Elizabeth (Abbey Lee – The Dark Tower, Gods of Egypt) and her husband Henry (Ciarin Hinds – John Carter, Rome) driving along twisting roads to his impressive house which is staffed by Claire (Carla Gugino – Watchmen, San Andreas) and Oliver (Matthew Beard – The Imitation Game, Skylight). Art, jewels, money, all the conveniences you could possibly imagine, all of it belongs to her, all of it… but one room. One room that Henry explicitly says that she cannot enter. Of course if she obeyed him, it would be a terribly short and boring film so she enters the room to discover what he is hiding from her and the plot spirals into a mess of lies, secrets and betrayals.
The acting is somewhat uneven, with Abbey Lee initially coming across as very stilted, though she seems to loosen up as things go on. Her supposedly English accent is a bit hit and miss, given that the actress herself is Australian, though there have certainly been far worse attempts at accents (Braveheart, anyone?). Ciaran Hinds is excellent as always, and watching his control slip in a number of scenes was genuinely quite chilling.
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The pacing is also near glacially slow in places, there are scenes that could have been cut to trim down the near two hour running time with very little being lost from the overall plot. A little too much time spent navel-gazing and introspection on the human condition which is, as with the acting, somewhat hit and miss with how relevant it feels without simply being there to make the characters seem clever.
Moving on from the negatives, the soundtrack from Rachel Zeffira (The Deserters) is an interesting mix of classical piano, ambient tracks and high, almost shrill cascades of electronica that punctuate the more intense scenes. Standout tracks here include ‘Red Mist, Pt.1’, ‘Ricochet’ and the curiously bubblegum pop-influenced strains of ‘The Mirror’.
Elizabeth Harvest is a film that plays with audience expectations. It certainly bears more than a little resemblance to a certain science fiction movie which came out a few years ago, but just as a viewer may be thinking “Oh, it’s just *name of movie here*”, the plot suddenly veers off down a far darker and more convoluted path than you may be expecting.
Other than the somewhat stilted acting, which actually helps add to the overall sense of WRONGNESS with the situation, there is little to criticise and lots to praise. It is, unfortunately, one of these films where to say more than has already been said would run the risk of spoiling the various twists and turns the story takes, so let’s just say that Elizabeth Harvest is a sorely under-appreciated film that deserves a wider audience.
It will not be for everyone, certainly, but there is plenty here to be enjoyed by those who are willing to be patient with the occasionally slow pace of the plot and allow the story to unfold in its own time.