'Elizabeth Harvest': Film Review

Courtesy of IFC Films
Stylish but plodding.
8/10/2018

A newlywed bride discovers that her husband is harboring a horrific secret in Sebastian Gutierrez's sci-fi thriller.

At the beginning of Sebastian Gutierrez's sci-fi horror film Elizabeth Harvest, an extremely wealthy scientist brings his gorgeous and much younger wife home to his sprawling modernistic estate for the first time after their wedding. He gives her a tour of the lavish environs that are carefully attended to by two servants and which feature such high-tech security devices as fingerprint locks. He tells her that everything she sees is hers, including the lavish wine cellar. There's but one caveat: "The only off-limits room is this one," he tells her as she looks at its locked door.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to guess that it won't be long until she breaks his rule and opens that door, with horrific results.

A modern-day riff on the Bluebeard story displaying influences ranging from Rebecca to Italian giallo to Brian DePalma, Elizabeth Harvest begins promisingly. The writer-director establishes an atmosphere of foreboding with an arresting visual style. The characters prove instantly memorable, from the mysterious Henry (Ciaran Hinds), who's clearly besotted with his new bride; to the tall, lissome Elizabeth (Abbey Lee), who takes everything in with an air of weary resignation; to the servants (Matthew Beard, Carla Gugino), who show little outward emotion but seem to be churning inside. Add the inquisitive detective engagingly played by Dylan Baker and you've got the makings for real suspense.

Unfortunately, the film goes downhill from the moment that fateful door is opened. To reveal the violent and fantastical events that occur afterward would be too much of a spoiler. Suffice it to say that the punning title provides a clue.

The main problem is that the storyline becomes so convoluted that it doesn't live up to the intriguing setup. Most of the film's second half is consumed by plodding exposition that is not exactly handled in imaginative fashion. That is unless you consider it imaginative for a principal character to be locked in a room and forced to read a journal that reveals all. The confusing time-shifting chronology doesn't help matters, while the filmmaker's attempts to enliven the spooky proceedings via such devices as split-screen during a pivotal sequence only calls more attention to the narrative deficiencies.

The pic certainly looks gorgeous, and not only because the beautiful lead actresses are photographed with the sort of loving attention once routinely provided by Hollywood films. Cale Finot's color-drenched cinematography and Diana Trujillo's elaborate production design make invaluable contributions, as does the ominous score composed by Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira. The performances, too, are excellent, with Hinds infusing his portrayal with a tortured intensity and Lee projecting an ambiguity that works perfectly for her character(s). Gugino and Beard are equally effective, especially as their roles deepen during the course of the story, and Baker's naturalism effectively contrasts with the gothic proceedings. 

But the excellent technical elements are undercut by the tedious, repetitive storyline. Elizabeth Harvest feels like the sort of classic tale that's been told many times before, but in far more involving fashion.

Production companies: Automatik Entertainment, Motion Picture Capital, Voltage Pictures
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Abbey Lee, Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds, Matthew Beard, Dylan Baker
Director-screenwriter: Sebastian Gutierrez
Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Leon Clarance, Fred Berger, Sebastian Gutierrez
Executive producers: Laure Vaysse, Nicolas Chartier, Jonathan Deckter, Greg Strause, Colin Strause
Director of photography: Cale Finot
Production designer: Diana Trujillo
Editor: Matt Mayer
Composers: Rachel Zeffira, Aris Badwan
Costume designer: Camila Olarte

Rated R, 105 minutes