Elizabeth Harvest, 2018.
Written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez.
Starring Abbey Lee, Ciarán Hinds, Carla Gugino, Dylan Baker, and Matthew Beard.
A brilliant man marries a beautiful woman and shows her his home, stating that it’s all hers – except a room she can’t enter. First chance she enters and discovers what might be human cloning. When the husband returns she pays the price.
Elizabeth Harvest is a low-budget science fiction film that conveys its sci-fi concepts with ideas rather than in special effects and lavish set pieces. These types of films breathe new life into the genre, without the burdens and expectations of the big-budget studio sci-fi, and allow for exploration of the more cerebral aspects of the genre. Spectacle is wonderful, but I’ll forever be an advocate for the democratization of science fiction storytelling in any medium. And while I wouldn’t claim writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez’s latest film ascends to the heights of some of the genre’s most cerebral fair, there still manages to be enough here to chew on.
Ciarán Hinds turns in a credible performance as Henry, a mad scientist archetype disguised as a modern technocrat, who is slowly succumbing to strange obsessions in his cloning project. Abbey Lee stars as the titular Elizabeth, Henry’s wife and the point-of-view character, whose discovery of her husband’s secrets begins to unravel the plot. Carla Gugino delivers the most interesting and measured performance of the bunch as Claire, another scientist complicit in Henry’s work.
The film is slow. Painfully, at times. At least at first. The layers of plot and the necessary character development might call for a slower pace here, so that could be somewhat understandable were it not for the fact that these things are largely backloaded into a montage of exposition found in a journal. This ultimately makes sense as a narrative device within the context of the story, but damages the pacing of the film in a way that some might find unforgivable. It presents itself as if it were a mystery whose questions are all revealed in one clean stroke, but a good mystery feeds you more information as it raises more questions. Here, however, we ruminate on the same few questions the whole time with little in the way of natural development.
None of this is to say that the film is wholly boring. The slower parts are laced with a bit of tension and punctuated with a few grisly moments. What it lacks in pacing it makes up for by being visually interesting and well cast. Hinds tips you off to his character’s monstrous nature well before you learn any of his secrets. Lee is compelling as the clueless and curious Elizabeth. Gugino’s quiet reserve lets on that she knows everything, and that she finds this whole situation upsetting. The cast is rounded out by an always interesting Dylan Baker (probably best known to most as Dr. Connors in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, but a wonderful character actor in his own right) and Matthew Beard as the blind Oliver. It doesn’t end up being enough to paper over the cracks in the narrative, but it is enough to turn a flawed film into a compelling watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★