IFC has always been a trustworthy source for wonderful films for me. Even before they got into distribution or bought their theater in the West Village, when all they had to their name was a cable TV channel, I saw many of my favorite films of all time for the first time through IFC. My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant), The Brood (David Cronenberg), The Slums of Beverly Hills (Tamara Jenkins) – so many more that I can’t even remember.
Then they started distributing films and across the board basically, all the films they acquire and distribute are good, if not overwhelmingly, amazingly great. Think about it, you have Y Tu Mama Tambien, an absolute masterpiece by Alfonso Cuaron, and also the introduction of Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna to most of the English-speaking world. Then there’s AntiChrist, one of Lars Von Trier’s more brutal and mystical horror stories. Then, the hit sensation The Babadook directed by Jennifer Kent. There are so, so, so, so many more films that I could rant and rave about that IFC has distributed (Elephant, Weiner-Dog, Frances Ha, BOYHOOD, Pontypool, Fish Tank, STRANGERS, okay I will shut up now). Therefore, I knew when I pushed play on ELIZABETH HARVEST, I would be watching something of quality.
The film opens on wealthy scientist Henry, played by Ciaran Hinds (most beloved by myself as Wildling King Mance Rayder on Game of Thrones, also Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) carrying his – in my personal opinion much too young for someone his age but I digress – new bride Elizabeth (Abbey Lee; Mad Max: Fury Road, The Neon Demon) over the threshold of their stunningly opulent home. The somewhat peculiar staff greets her; Oliver (Matthew Beard; An Education, The Imitation Game) who is blind yet oddly obsessed with flowers, and Claire (Carla Gugino; Gerald’s Game, Watchmen, Sin City), who seems like a glorified maid but is definitely not.
Henry seems wildly in love with Elizabeth and she seems to share in his all-encompassing love, especially as he gives her a tour of a ridiculously expansive manse with all manner of art, clothes, and stacks of cash at her disposal. There’s only one room in the house that Henry says Elizabeth can’t go into. I’m sorry but honestly, do you know anyone – any human regardless of gender – who would just be like “Okay! Sure thing, fella! Keep your little secret room there, I’m not curious about that at all!!!!” ELIZABETH HARVEST and its writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez (Judas’ Kiss, Women in Trouble, A Girl Walks Into a Bar) knows we, as the audience, are smarter than that, THANK GOD. After this moment in the film, things get to a point where I can’t reveal much more without spoiling a lot of the fun for you. We get an additional character via one of my favorite character actors of all time, Dylan Baker (Happiness, Trick ‘R Treat, Selma) who is Henry’s only friend, a policeman whom we aren’t entirely sure is corrupt or not.
Sebastian Gutierrez’ writing in this film is almost deceptively intelligent. With a plot that upon first inspection presents itself almost immediately, the threads in the tapestry continue to be woven long after we think we know everything. In concert with cinematographer Cale Finot, Gutierrez gives us an atmosphere that is dark and brooding, Victorian yet ultra-modern, a palpable homage to Hitchcock-via-Brian De Palma. I haven’t seen split-screens in a while and they were done to great effect, which certainly can’t always be said. Although I can’t delve too much into her role in the film, Carla Gugino, who is also Sebastian Gutierrez’ real-life partner, is incredible as Claire. She never fails to impress me, and this just continues my awe with her acting ability. The whole cast is incredible and works together very well as an ensemble. Abbey Lee really throws the trophy wife stereotype through several windows and Ciaran Hinds is a perfect kind of evil that goes from Lawful to Neutral to Chaotic with grand ease. Matthew Beard proves to be an emerging talent to watch with another great performance under his belt.
I will finally say, I had very recently watched Moon by Duncan Jones for the first time this past weekend and this film is—in my opinion—definitely its psychic twin. Also, yes I know I should be shamed for only just now seeing Moon. I was thinking right before I wrote this review that this film is like if Moon and Ex Machina had a baby at Westworld. It uses one of my favorite film tropes of all time: Should man even try to play God? The answer is almost universally no, but I’ll let you watch ELIZABETH HARVEST to come to your own conclusion.
ELIZABETH HARVEST will arrive in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on August 10