Thursday 21 March 2019

Elizabeth Harvest (USA 2018: Dir Sebastian Gutierrez)

Gutierrez's first feature since his 2012 movie Hotel Noir has its roots in a retelling of the Bluebeard myth filtered through a Neon Demon like quasi future of brittle, static characters and glacial if beautifully dressed, brutalist interiors.

Ciarán Hinds is on great form as the suave, sleazy, obviously brilliant but increasingly monstrous Henry, a scientist who has made his fortune from his skills and, as the film opens, brought home his new elfin young bride Elizabeth to enjoy married life at his sprawling, meticulously arranged house.

Elizabeth is baffled why such a clever and, well, mature man has chosen such an ordinary girl for his wife (although as Elizabeth Abbey Lee is far from that)? Henry seems creepily besotted with her: "There's a very corruptible quality about you," he tells Elizabeth at one point while in bed. Whatever's going on gives little pleasure to the staff of the household, general factota Claire (Carla Gugino) and Oliver (Matthew Beard).

Elizabeth is given the run of Henry's stylish pad while he's out, with the one exception of a room which is off limits to all. Unsurprisingly Elizabeth's curiosity gets the better of her and before we know it she's drawn back the curtain, and doesn't like what she finds. The Bluebeard method of dealing with the bride is utilised, and very soon the movie starts over, with another Elizabeth returning to the bridal home and going through the motions again.

For a while I thought that Elizabeth Harvest was going to play out as an esoteric chamber piece that posed some questions and provided few answers. While it certainly takes its time presenting the story's reveals this is, under the chic furnishings, beautiful clothes and gliding, unhurried camera movements, a proper old B movie sci fi/horror.

The spirit of de Palma looms large, not least in the use of split screen, but also the borderline misogynist threat on display. There are also touches of Hitchcock, in the rather old fashioned doomed trapped woman scenario (Rebecca comes to mind), and its themes echo Alex Garland's 2014 movie Ex-Machina. But Elizabeth Harvest eventually acquires an identity of its own as its looping story gradually tightens. Lee is great in her part, her bemusement at her situation gradually giving way to understanding and then resilience. Dylan Baker is on hand as an investigating cop (hardly a stretch for him) but it is the performance of Carla Gugino as Claire that really steals the show here; she's the film's Mrs Danvers, a woman who has seen much and learned to live through it.

My usual moan about film length applies here - this really shouldn't have been one hour and 45 minutes in length - but it's an assured movie with a proper hissable villain that I really recommend.

Elizabeth Harvest is available on VOD from 1 April.   

No comments:

Post a Comment