The Harvest was recently released on Netflix, and if you’re anything like me, a picture of Michael Shannon inside the outline of a burning house is too intriguing to ignore. I wanted to watch Take Shelter instead, another Shannon pick in the same vein of rural crazy people, but it cost $12 on Amazon and I’m not rolling in dough here! With that said, let’s take a look into the twisted world in which Michael Shannon’s face is not the film’s creepiest…[spoilers ahead]
The Harvest takes place in what I assume to be upstate New York, mostly because that’s the only place where people can possibly wear knit sweaters all winter. We’re first introduced to Maryanne, a tween whose parents have recently died and is forced to move in with her grandparents. There’s nothing much to be said about either of the grandparents, except that one of them is Peter Fonda, and he says “far out!” too many times to be acceptable. Maryanne misses her old friends, but I guess not her dead parents, because for someone who was recently orphaned, she doesn’t mention them at all. Teenagers, amirite?
Maryanne meets a mysterious invalid named Andy who lives in a secluded house in the woods. His mother (Samantha Morton) insists he use a wheelchair to move around and keeps him heavily drugged, even though his father (Michael Shannon) believes that Andy needs to walk to improve his strength. There’s a fascinating power dynamic between Morton and Shannon in this film. Morton, who is a doctor, touts her medical knowledge above Shannon, who is only a nurse. He disagrees with her treatment plan, but is ultimately cowed by Morton’s ice-cold glare and emasculating put-downs. She accuses him of neglect when he allows Andy to use the bathroom alone and blames him for letting Maryanne in the house, even though he was unaware because Maryanne is a certified professional at sneaking through windows.
Morton is the most physical force in The Harvest. While Shannon spends most of his time slinking around the house with a pained look on his face, Morton is constantly moving, though most of her movements are sinister. Andy’s only experience with the outside world is through his window, where he watches his corn patch grow, and there’s a scene in which Morton punishes Andy for lying by hacking away all of his corn. I never thought I’d see a scene where a boy weeps in horror over the demise of his corn field, but here it was. Did I need to see it? Probably not. She mainly controls Andy through physical means, but Morton’s ability to quickly transform from shrieking harpy to concerned parent help her manipulate Andy emotionally. Shannon has little to do in this movie. He’s the bystander to his wife’s insanity, but his internal guilt is apparent on his face. Not Creepy Shannon is the creepiest thing since Creepy Shannon.
The plot isn’t so much driven by actions as character inactions. In one of her usual sneaky sneak-arounds, Maryanne discovers the body of a comatose child in Andy’s basement. He’s hooked up to wires and what appears to be extremely expensive medical equipment. I don’t know how they afforded that shit since neither parents are working. I guess St. Jude was too distracted with all of their terminally ill children to notice a few heart monitors disappearing. It’s for charity!
Maryanne notices a row of X-rays taped to the wall, one with the name Jason Kinnamick. She conveniently sneaks out the window and runs back to her house to investigate. Oddly for a thriller, there’s never the fear that Maryanne will be trapped inside Andy’s house. She’s flits in and out like a ghost, albeit one who looks like she was dressed by Burberry Kids.
The Internet, or more specifically Trillion Search.web.org.net, because Google still won’t let itself be used in movies for some reason (you already have gazillion dollars!), reveals that Jason Kinnamick was a 3 month old baby kidnapped from the hospital and never found. Maryanne jumps to the conclusion that the comatose boy is Jason, and tries to tell her grandparents, but they’re having none of it. In real life, if this happened, the police would be called, or at least the grandparents would have read Maryanne’s evidence. Instead, Grandpa Peter Fonda tells Maryanne to go read a book and to stop wasting her time on the computer you darn delinquent! Oh, Peter Fonda. I know you didn’t want to say that! The script won’t let you be the cool grandpa you so deserve to be.
Because Grandpa Peter Fonda won’t believe Maryanne, she sneaks sneakily over to warn Andy that there’s a boy in his basement. However, this time his dad is home and Mom bolted the windows shut (because there was a draft!) so Maryanne hides in the closet. And then she sneaks sneakily out and is grounded by Grandma Not Peter Fonda for sneakily sneaking all the damn time!
About this time in a different thriller/horror movie, shit would be going down. And technically, shit is going down, but the sense of urgency is never present. Andy crawls down the stairs to the basement and sees the comatose kid, tries to speak to him despite the fact he is comatose, and is discovered by Shannon, who tries to assure him that the kid is alright, but instead says “He doesn’t exist to you,” which isn’t the most reassuring thing I’ve ever heard. But hey, it’s Michael Shannon. I’m sure he meant well. Shannon tries to remove Andy from the room, but Andy struggles and accidentally rips out comatose kid’s wires, causing his heart to start failing. Morton runs down shrieking, sees Andy, and instead of caring for him, kisses the comatose boy instead and calls him “my son.”
Oh snap! Shannon carries Andy upstairs and drugs him and then they TAKE OUT HIS LIVER! Maryanne is worried about Andy, but grounded, so Grandpa Peter Fonda changes his mind and bestows on Maryanne a gem of wisdom. “When I was a kid, I couldn’t hangout with my friends either. But I never let that stop me. Follow your heart, kid.” Not exactly what I would say to a girl who is trying to save her friend from being used as a human organ farm, but good try, Fonda. Maryanne sneaks sneakily out only to discover that Andy’s parents are planning to perform a heart transplant between him and the real Andy, their son/comatose basement kid.
Maryanne sneaks sneakily inside to save Andy, but I’m not sure exactly how, since the window was bolted shut and the front door locked. She has her ninja ways. She’s like “Andy they’re gonna take out your heart and give it to that Jason kid!” and Andy is like “Bitch, I am Jason!” Maryanne realizes that she hasn’t been paying good enough attention this entire movie and tries to rescue Andy, but oh no, Shannon shows up ready to take Andy/Jason to heart surgery. Luckily, he has a change of heart (AHAHAHAHA) and stabs Andy with a needle full of epinephrine, throws him into a wheelbarrow and tells Maryanne to “run, Bullseye! Run like the wind!”
At this point, many conflicts are happening, and I don’t really feel invested in any of them. Andy is trying to escape, which I care mildly about, but the only real threat is Morton, and I don’t think she has the physical strength to wrestle Andy back into the house by herself. This threat is in fact easily defused when Maryanne somehow gets Andy to walk (miraculously like Jesus) across the forest stream, and Morton decides not to follow. Wow, that was easier than I expected. Simultaneously, Pained-Face Michael Shannon pulls the plug on his comatose son and sets the house on fire. It’s a dramatic ending for a conflict that was suddenly introduced 3/4 into the movie and was never given room to be conflicting. The movie ends with Andy/Jason and Maryanne playing baseball. Everything is happy and well. Who is Andy/Jason living with and how can he survive without a liver and if someone else gave him a liver does that point to ethical questions because he was also going to give a different kid his liver but that was stopped because of ethics? These are important questions that will never be answered.
There’s obviously a good deal this movie was trying to discuss, but hell if I know exactly what it is. Unimportant subplots like Shannon cheating on Morton with their drug supplier lady seem superfluous to the story, almost like they were slapped on to give even more drama. We already know that Shannon and Morton’s relationship is strained because of Andy; we didn’t need a clichéd affair too. Comatose kid’s illness is never fully explained, but Shannon says that “he’s been dead for a long time,” which sort of reminds me of AI when they try to replace their son with Haley Joel Osment but the real son wakes up and it’s like “awkwarrrrddd.” Except instead of treating Andy like a son, Morton keeps him immobile and medicates him and hacks up his corn when he lies to her. This also begs the question that if Andy isn’t really sick, what about Comatose Kid? Was he made to be unwell by Morton in a psychotic form of maternal instinct? Does Morton have a form of Munchausen Syndrome?
Both Morton and Shannon are complex characters and their reasons for kidnapping Andy besides the obvious health of his organs would be interesting to explore, but the movie never goes beyond the apparent truth. There must have been love originally, as Andy was given lots of care and affection, but Morton changes halfway through the movie from a layered character to a caricature of the psychotic mother. If she loves her real son so much, why keep him in the basement? The basement can be symbolic for shame, but what was the point of having one fake, kidnapped son in plain view and the other, real, dying son hidden away? The only reasonable answer would be that Morton caused her son to be mortally ill, and is ashamed of that fact, too ashamed to act like a rational parent and take him to the hospital. Instead she tries to make up for it by caring for Andy, while simultaneously prepping him to be used as a donor for her son, completing a twisted circle of repentance for her ill child. The organ donation seems more of an afterthought than a real plot twist. The movie would be just as eerie if Andy wasn’t a donor, because then Morton’s care for him would make even less sense. All in all, it’s a movie that tried to say a lot, but was lost in its multi fold message.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Grandpa Peter Fondas
- Speaking of Burberry Kids, the costuming is so luxurious that it’s distracting. Everyone is dressed like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog, especially Maryanne, who wears plaid pants and for some reason isn’t ashamed of that.
- Upstate New York is Fall’s newest flavor! Look at those leaves drift to the ground! Man, that stream is sparkling! Brrr, can’t you feel the chill?
- Michael Shannon angrily munching marshmallows should be a gif
- Grandma Not Peter Fonda takes a Redbook level cherry pie out of the oven and Maryanne is like “I’m gonna go and play.” Sit your ass back down and eat that beautiful pie, young lady. Also, who eats dinner at 5:00?
- Why was there a random kid playing baseball in the beginning? And why did he almost die? Was the also unrelated baseball ending supposed to be cyclical?
- In an alternate universe, The Harvest was a movie from the corn’s perspective