If you know director John McNaughton, it’s because he has probably scared the shit out of you or confused you about the nature of female friendship. McNaughton made his name in the mid-1980s with Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, based on the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who allegedly killed hundreds of people in the ’60s and ’70s (though only three, including his own mother, were confirmed). He went on to make black comedies like Mad Dog And Glory with Uma Thurman, Robert De Niro, and Bill Murray, and his last wide release was Wild Things, that movie where Neve Campbell and Denise Richards sip tea and knit hats. After making the by-all-accounts-underwhelming Speaking Of Sex in 2001, McNaughton fell off the radar, film-wise. In the years since, he’s directed episodes of Without A Trace and John From Cincinnati (both, of course, terrifying and/or sexy in their own right).
McNaughton’s finally making his return to the big screen this month with The Harvest, a horror film that falls somewhere between Misery and The Secret Garden. It follows Maryann (Natasha Calis), a teenager who moves in with her grandparents after she’s orphaned. Lonely and sad, she starts hanging out with her neighbor, a bed-ridden kid (Charlie Tahan) whose mom (Samantha Morton) disapproves of their blooming friendship. As if all of that weren’t depressing enough, Maryann starts to uncover some “seriously sinister goings-on” in the house. The trailer gives one of them away almost immediately—Maryann suspects that her sickly pal was kidnapped as a baby—but it also looks like there might be some Munchausen By Proxy happening, courtesy of a particularly crazy-eyed, scene-chewing Morton. Oh, and Peter Fonda and Michael Shannon are here, too, looking upset and suspicious most of the time.
Though McNaughton finished filming The Harvest back in 2013 (on celluloid, no less!), its release has been delayed because McNaughton and co. went into production before securing a distributor. “What we did was basically like giving birth to an orphan,” McNaughton told the Chicagoist last year. What an apt and creepy description, McNaughton. Thank you. Here’s the trailer:
The trail of the tape
Title: The Harvest
Director: John McNaughton
Screenwriter: Stephen Lancellotti
Cast: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Natasha Calis, Charlie Tahan, Peter Fonda
Release date: April 10 in select theaters and on VOD
The entire trailer in one line of dialogue: “He does not exist. He does not exist to you.”
The entire trailer in one screengrab:
The Harvest’s received mostly positive reviews on the festival front, with Variety calling it “a powerful coming-of-ager with the potential both to scar and strengthen the psyches of an entire generation.” That’s some mighty-ass praise, Variety. But this trailer seems…off to me, somehow; the acting feels stilted and off-key, and the pacing is awkward, like the trailer was cut by a drunk child who’d never seen a horror movie. But it’s hard to say; maybe the movie is just weird as shit, in the best possible way. McNaughton more or less said that himself in the Chicagoist: “When I read a script, I look for something I haven’t seen before. And that’s the worst thing in the world, from a marketing department’s view.”