What is it about “woods” that make them such a potent well of inspiration for horror filmmakers to draw from? Whether it be the domain of a witch, home to a bunch of feral cannibals or, God forbid, they contain yet another “unnamed presence”, it is a plot device often relied upon to provide some semblance of terror. Don’t get us wrong, it can work and work extremely well; The Blair Witch Project utilised it’s woody setting to terrifying effect; and Corin Hardy’s dark fairy-tale The Hallow imagines the inherent creepiness of trees and their roots as hidey holes for a gaggle of mythical nasties. And so we come to The Harvesting, a film that carries as much threat and intrigue as a pile of damp kindling.
Attempting to mend their failing marriage, Jake (Chris Conner) and Dinah (Elena Caruso) drag their technology-loving children off to a remote cottage in the middle of Amish country. But as we know from the prologue, when a possessed young man, Amos (Jack Buckley), butchered his family with a rusty axe, this place has some issues. “Stay out of the woods,” comes the cry as Elders warn against the mysterious, malevolent force hiding therein, but where would that get the story? Before you know it the bored children have gone to explore and all sorts of unpleasantness begins.
Except, it doesn’t. With The Harvesting, director Ivan Kraljevic has attempted to create a psychological thriller full of dark secrets and spectral misadventure. What he has made is a film that meanders to a point of stagnant disinterest as nothing at all happens save for some repetitive hauntings that offer little in the way of scares, and hints towards a greater mystery that never feels fully resolved. The issues are compounded by the cast’s insistence – perhaps at the request of their director, but possibly just to amuse themselves – on flitting between camp overacting and expressionless brooding. Caruso is the greatest culprit, as her face barely conveys even a hint of emotion even in what should be hugely fraught and stressful scenes as her children go missing following some faintly disguised threats from locals.
The message the film extolls is also an issue. Treading an uncomfortable line just the wrong side of religious fanaticism, The Harvesting implies that forgiveness makes everything alright, even the brutal murder of multiple family members. Misplaced at best, deeply insensitive at worst, this further adds to the confused tone of the film.
With so many other, and much better, films with similar themes available, The Harvesting contains nothing worth your time. Nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing scary. Just nothing.
THE HARVESTING / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: IVAN KRALJEVIC / SCREENPLAY: BEN EVERHART / STARRING: ELENA CARUSO, CHRIS CONNER, JENNIFER GAREIS, GREG WOOD, JACK BUCKLEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW