Elizabeth Harvest Explained-When Hitchcock and Bluebeard Meet
Elizabeth Harvest is an artfully done example of corruptible technology in a rinse and repeat world.
Director Sebastian Gutierrez delivers a psychological thriller full of serpentine spirals and thoughtful tricks. His film details the risks of hubris and power left unchecked. The story of newlyweds who are not what they seem and an idyllic life that turns out to be anything but. Almost from the first moment the film veers strongly into folklore territory. This is Bluebeard’s Tale in a sci-fi Hitchcockian world. The trope is a classic tale of curiosity and a controlling killer husband. Usually the trope features an older man and a much younger, innocent girl who breaks into a locked space despite numerous warnings to not do so, only to find something terrible(dead bodies) and usually resulting in her death as well. The beginning moments introduce us to the key players Henry(Cirian Hinds) and Elizabeth(Abbey Lee) as they drive up to his high-tech fortress in the middle of no where. Elizabeth is vapid and simple but beautiful and Henry is a bloated egomaniac who is more joke than scientist despite his obvious wealth and intelligence. He talks at Elizabeth rather than with her and it is clear early on he is not a good guy. He also has one huge secret in the form of the only locked door in the house. The only other people who live at the house are an oddly attentive young blind man and an oppressive house supervisor channeling Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock’s Rebecca.
Easily viewed as three completely separate movies for the abrupt tonal changes and 90 degree right turn the story takes early on that divides the film. This is a story that changes course so many times, intellectual whiplash is a certain result. This change and the continuing surprises are actually huge positives in a film that could be relegated to just another movie about misused science. The three separate components of the movie allow for aspects of mystery, horror, science fiction, and art house initiative to each have their moment to shine. The film is stylistically dark and foreboding, overlaid quite literally with full color saturation that is as effective as attractive. This movie is as pretty as it is interesting. For lovers of FX’s and Noah Hawley’s Legion this film is cut from the same kooky technicolor cloth. It is nuanced craziness with a late sixties sensibility. Coloring and camera angles combine with intense expository scenes towards the end that showcase a nightmarish psyche and the motivations that guide them.
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There is just something icky about watching the much older, clearly controlling Henry played with all the simmering malevolence by the sublime Cirian Hinds. Those who watched him in AMC’s runaway hit The Terror know just how powerfully he does conceited authoritarian. He does not disappoint in this cautionary tale of over reaching possession. His Henry is brilliant but equally arrogant. This is Harvey Weinstien wielding his power behind a laboratory instead of a producers chair. Hind’s Bluebeard not only is dangerous but has the audacity to blame Elizabeth for the abuse. Classic victim shaming in a futuristic world. “There’s a very corruptible quality about you Elizabeth.”, Henry chastises. Those words are everything you need to know about their relationship. She should love him because he commands her to and she owes him everything. That relationship and the other equally odd and often off-putting couplings make up the entirety of the film. None of these people appear to be capable of a healthy relationship and watching these sad and dysfunctional people is scarier than the tasteful gore.
The acting is spot on. Heavy hitters Cirian Hinds, Carla Gugina from Gerald’s Game and Sucker Punch, Mathew Beard from The Imitation Game and Dylan Baker from the highly anticipated Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile are all great. Gugina is as usual perfect in her role as housemaid/fellow scientist turned sympathetic fellow victim. Claire has beats of deep humanity and love that overshadow the clinical observer she initially appears to be. Beard in particular shines as Oliver Henry’s son. His character progression is the most profound and he ping pongs effortlessly between sympathetic enabler and calculating captor. Abbey Lee’s Elizabeth is forced to play both naive engenue and fed up victim. Her initial portrayal is flat and void of affect but that emotionless superficial girl is necessary to drive the remainder of the film. A huge departure from the outlandish performance turned in on Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon this is the victim not the aggressor. She has the most demanding role and although not perfect, is quite good portraying a wide range of emotions and personality traits.
All in all this is a successful film and a refreshing take on the classic trope. A nice mixing of genres create a strikingly provocative movie that can be enjoyed on many levels. This is a smart movie that is mentally tasking not for its confusing nature but its constant curving story archs. It definitely is not predictable and the performances by Gugina, Hinds and Beard are worth a watch or nothing else. Prepare to be fooled because it is one twisty psycho-sexual fairy tale that shoves you out of the car just when you think you know the destination. It is a solid example of artsy science fiction done right. You can stream it everywhere.