Brilliant but deeply troubled Nobel Prize winner Henry brings his stunning new wife Elizabeth into his equally stunning home. In a direct parallel to the folklore of The Bluebeard Myth, he explains to her that everything in the house is hers and all locations unrestricted except one forbidden yet easily accessed room. Will nosiness get the better of Elizabeth and what will the consequences be?
Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez’s slow-burn thriller is a complex arthouse affair that deals with obsession, the integrity of benevolence and the fragility of identity. The film is heavily weighted on the side of aesthetics over substantial plot acrobatics but what gorgeous aesthetics they are. What storyline there is reveals its self to be genuinely dark in its thematic multi-layering, a pleasant surprise from the guy who wrote the screenplay for Snakes on a Plane.
Elizabeth Harvest drops us in at the deep end of a convoluted genetic mystery that appears to be taking place in an episode of Grand Designs directed by an early career Nicolas Roeg. It is strongly reminiscent of the sort of flick that would pop up periodically as a vehicle for some it girl or photogenic rock star during the 1970s.
The timeline is non-linear and the unexpected flashbacks utilise smart visual clues and character-driven nuances to keep things coherent but do not expect a conventional narrative arc. There is also a stridently modernist feminist agenda at large as the film explores the mechanics of jealousy and madness within a wider framework of moral altruism. The ethical conundrums of bio-genetics are addressed with minimal expositional fuss as is the catalytic motif of the autonomy of curiosity as a barometer of trust.
The direction is crisp and retro looking with consistently fresh cinematography that nods enthusiastically in the direction of vintage European horror. But it’s the production design that gives the picture its vitality and gravitas and elevates it above mere Neo-Giallo centric Argento aping.
Elizabeth Harvest looks to be unfolding in one location. However, it was actually shot in four different houses, various stage sets and sports a CGI generated exterior. Yet due to meticulous planning, seamless set dressing and dazzlingly manipulated colour palettes, the spatial consistency is utterly frictionless.
The level of care and attention to detail including the gender-specific headfuckery of architectural theorist Adolf Loos and a colour saturation scheme governed by the varied shades of human blood is astounding. Production designer Diana Trujillo weaves mirrors, erotic art, foliage and velvet into connective tissue for a faultlessly cohesive free flowing canvas. Like recent bloodbath Revenge before it, the film never manages to look anything but divine.
A small cast often translates into overthought performances that can expose an acting range but here the director elicits subtle and naturalistic work from his five players. The camera clearly adores leading lady Abbey Lee just as it did in The Neon Demon and what seems like an initially stilted showing grows in stature as the numerous twists are revealed. Ciarán Hinds gives her spouse Henry plenty of lubricous slime and needy slush and gets to deliver some killer lines. Matthew Beard (The Imitation Game) hints at greater things in the role of blind home help Oliver with a tortured performance accentuated by real-life stomach issues contracted in Bogata.
If you are a fan of ostentatiously lensed cinema or intelligent horror thrillers then you should seek out this sumptuously reverse engineered 300-year-old French folktale.
Sci-Fi, Mystery, Horror thriller | USA, 2018 | 105 mins | – Strong violence, threat| The Movie Partnership |Available on VOD from 1st April| Dir. Sebastian Gutierrez| Cast. Abbey Lee, Ciarán Hinds, Carla Gugino|Pre-order on iTunes