Monday, 22 February 2016

Harvest Lake (2016)

"All this plant life is full of acid, even the grass" -- Star Trek, The Way to Eden (1969)

Four friends getting back to nature, fall down an acid drenched rabbit hole and in the process lose their inhibitions in a frenzy of fungi-fucking.

As in music, a sophomore film is always going to be tough. Viewer expectations will always want to reference the first film and this is generally how directors end up in a rut; churning out rehashes of what the audience liked about their first successful film. Director Scott Schirmer firmly kicks these expectations into touch and then stomps all over them. Harvest Lake is not Found.

I don't think I've ever seen a film quite like Harvest Lake. Although the basic premise is very simple, calling it high-concept is most inappropriate. This is horror as art and I guess the closest film in feel and tone would be Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin. The feelings engendered by the film are so subtle that we could ask ourselves, is this really horror? While the film does explore certain fears; nature, loss of control, sex, gender, it is, like all good horror films, only horrific based on what we bring to the film. It gently strokes our anxieties rather than sticking a knife in our guts. As the friends start to lose control, merging with nature, they revert to what we all are underneath the artifice that society cloaks us in - animals fucking in a forest, and to some that's pretty scary.

The stunning rural location and atmospheric sound design give a naturalistic feel; tranquillity during one moment, unease in the next. Light and shade. The fungi themselves are well designed and subtly remind us of sexual organs: an oozing penis, lactating breasts, some gently throbbing labia. The forest creature itself feels like it's always been there, since the dawn of time. An ancient being, waiting to bring us home, to be the creatures that we once were. These are effective and elegant effects that enhance without overpowering the film's simplicity.

The static camera-work with macro, wide-shots and slow pans are perfectly suited to the tone and environment. It was a real pleasure to watch a low-budget film without any damned "shaky-cam". It must have been tempting to throw a shit load of filters onto the camera during the trippy sequences but cinematographer Brian Williams avoids this cliché and instead lets the landscape and the camera do the talking.

The performances are wonderfully uninhibited. Personal and sexual boundaries are set in the first 15 minutes and then gradually discarded throughout the rest of the film. While, for me, Ellie Church, Tristan Risk and Jason Crowe were the stand-outs, the whole cast work really well together and look like they had a real blast filming. These aren't your average, young American teens that you want to see killed at the first opportunity - I like these characters! The film is well scripted with naturalistic dialogue and some light touches of humour.

Although the influence of Glazer, Cronenberg, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and even a little Brothers Grimm can be seen, Harvest Lake is very much its own film and high praise should go to the cast and crew for creating a unique and beautiful experience.

Harvest Lake is an unnerving and quietly scary sexual-fairytale. Support independent film-makers and order a copy. At the moment the initial limited edition run of 250 Blu-Rays (I'm in the credits!) has sold out but a non-limited edition will be available for pre-order on March 11th 2016 (ships March 15th).

Letterboxd Review

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