Release Date: August 10. 2018
Director: Sebastian Gutierrez
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 105 Minutes
The frustrating plot summary that you are given, if you were interested enough to look up Elizabeth Harvest and what the Gothic science-fiction thriller by Sebastian Gutierrez is actually about, probably goes something like this: Newlywed Elizabeth (Abby Lee) is plucked from her life of obscurity by her new husband, Henry (Ciaran Hinds), a brilliant geneticist who, despite the noticeable difference between his aged experience and her youthful naivety, remains doting nonetheless.
Moved to an ultra-modern estate and waited on by an obsequious but off-putting staff (Carla Gugino and Matthew Beard), her days are spent in the inconsequential luxury of feasts and any material possession her heart desires, all under the eye of her lascivious husband. She has free roam of this state-of-the-art estate, complete with fingerprint recognition locks and security systems, all except one room that Henry has forbidden her from ever entering.
So that’s all you get, and it doesn’t take a professional scriptwriter to predict that behind that door lies a plot-important revelation that, once learned, cannot be unlearned or that Elizabeth, a waif of a character (as thin and underdeveloped as rice paper), will inevitably let having her every need met inadvertently force her to push against the her one boundary and open that door…I just didn’t expect that all to run its course within the first 20 minutes.
This ostensibly means that the remaining hour and twenty minutes of film exists after the twist-like revelation, and the film is mainly about mulling over the implications and probing into whatever is behind that door with detail. It also unfortunately means the relatively new school of spoiler culture dictates the entirety of an audience’s enjoyment of Elizabeth Harvest, a barren, docile and repetitive domestic thriller that takes its cues from films like Ex Machina and Morgan heavily, hinges on these plot elements not being revealed to them.
Regardless, putting the twist at the beginning is at least a bold idea for which I will give Gutierrez his due for attempting, but given how tame and predictable the end result is or how devoid of inquiry his methods are, the effort was most assuredly not worth it once we learn the truth.
What lies beyond Henry’s secret door in his high-tech Gothic castle, where he basically imprisons the doe-eyed Elizabeth, won’t surprise you by virtue of it being a heavily recycled twist for this isolationist mad-scientist-type plot. Elizabeth, played gratingly thick by a checked-out Abby Lee, walks through that fateful threshold unmotivated by any environmental circumstances or without even demonstrating an air of suspicion for her lecherous husband and his secretive way of dancing around the issue.
It’s behind that door that she uncovers an “experiment” pertaining directly to the nature of her existence. Frankly, what she discovers is a limp reveal, and the film carefully fills in what very much could have been assumed.
Perhaps I am just tired of these types of science-fiction films, where a guarded genius whisks a curious idealist into his secluded residence, where they lull the victim into a false sense of security via wealth, quirkiness, attractiveness or combination of the three, with the victim not knowing the hidden, sinister implications of his experiments, which almost always directly involve the guest.
It’s old hat, and even with a techno-futurist set design and the clinical compositions of cinematographer Cale Finot to capture it all, Elizabeth Harvest fails to get much of a rise out of you no matter how many revelations it can pull out of said old hat. When you front-load that revelation and are unable to ever reach that level of shock again, even with the remaining hour or so at your disposal, some restructuring was clearly in order.
There is this noticeable scramble in the third act to add more depth to the already creatively bankrupt premise when Elizabeth is literally locked in a room with a diary filled with backstory detailing all the hows and whys of her circumstance and is then forced, at gunpoint mind you, to read it. This prompts flashbacks, reveals on top of other reveals, and all the important reasons why you should care about what you saw at the 20-minute mark….and doesn’t this all just seem tedious and backwards?
My eyes glazed over as Elizabeth Harvest stumbled to retroactively unspoil itself while attempting to gaslight you into believing its twist was actually brilliant and original with the right context. I paid you the favor of delicately not detailing the plot, thus not really talking about the movie to any satisfying length, just so you can be naturally disappointed as I was when and if you choose to watch.