×

SXSW Film Review: ‘Elizabeth Harvest’

Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez offers a clever "Bluebeard" update in this idiosyncratic gothic sci-fi melodrama.

Director:
Sebastian Gutierrez
With:
Abbey Lee, Ciaran Hinds, Carla Gugino, Matthew Beard, Dylan Baker.

1 hour 45 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6852872/

During its first 10 minutes, “Elizabeth Harvest” is so tediously mannered, and lead player Abbey Lee’s performance is so listlessly affected, that an urge to bail is well-nigh irresistible. But then writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez pulls the rug and the floorboards right out from under you, and his impudently oddball gothic sci-fi melodrama lurches into a different groove. The disorienting impact of this early shock, coupled with the zig-zaggy progression of the time-tripping narrative, goes a long way toward distracting from a fairly conventional premise that ultimately asserts itself above all the flash and filigree. Indeed, you could describe the entire movie as an elaborate con job — and intend that appraisal as a compliment.

With the invaluable assistance of cinematographer Cale Finot, who precisely hits the sweet spot between futuristic sterility and rococo stylization, Gutierrez gives us a contemporary reimagining of the “Bluebeard” mythos set in the isolated mountain estate of a zillionaire research scientist.

Henry (Ciaran Hinds) returns to his 21st-century equivalent of a magic castle with Elizabeth (Lee), his much younger and very beautiful wife, after what appears to have been a whirlwind courtship and wedding. At first, Elizabeth behaves as one intoxicated by a heady rush of passion, sudden wealth and endless possibilities for happily-ever-aftering. But while she is overwhelmed by the luxury showered upon her by Henry, she can’t help feeling a tad awkward whenever she’s around the two-member house staff: Oliver (Matthew Beard), a blind twentysomething with a knack for flower arrangements, and Claire (Carla Gugino), a deferential but ominous woman who suggests a more attractive and polite version of Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” (just one of the several classic films Gutierrez quotes throughout the film).

Before he departs for what he promises will be a brief business trip, Henry tells his new bride she has free run of the immense house — with the sole proviso being that she can never enter a locked room where, presumably, he conducts his research. Naturally, she slips into the room and, just as naturally, very bad things start to happen.

What sort of things? Well, there’s the rub: It’s difficult to give even the most vaguely detailed, spoiler-averse description of what occurs after the opening scenes of “Elizabeth Harvest” without spilling beans and revealing twists.

The story has something to do with cloning experiments, something else to do misplaced loyalties, and a few more things to do with frayed family ties, romantic obsession, an inconveniently inquisitive and possibly corrupt cop (Dylan Baker) and a very conveniently detail-stuffed journal that proves extremely helpful to at least one of the people who read it. Secrets are revealed and motivations are unveiled incrementally as flashbacks alternate with the present. And while not all of the surprises are very surprising, Gutierrez and his cast do a respectable job of keeping us guessing long after we can tell where they are going.

As the movie progresses, Lee’s performance greatly improves as she illuminates different aspects of Elizabeth, and Hinds effectively imbues the mad scientist archetype with unappeasable sorrow and tragic self-awareness. In her earlier collaborations with Gutierrez — most notably, 2011’s free-wheelingly Altmanesque “Girl Walks Into a Bar” (one of the first commercial features released directly to YouTube) and the 2009 porn-spoofing roundelay “Women in Trouble” — Gugino cut loose as a smart and sexy live wire. Here, however, she is every bit as arresting as a substantially more repressed character who exposes her sensual side in a very different way. But it would be unfair to say more than that about her portrayal of Claire, or about “Elizabeth Harvest” itself.

SXSW Film Review: 'Elizabeth Harvest'

Reviewed at SXSW (Visions), March 16, 2018. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: An Automatik production in association with Motion Picture Capital and Voltage Pictures. (International sales: Paradigm, Los Angeles.) Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Leon Clarance, Fred Berger, Sebastian Gutierrez. Executive producers: Laurie Vaysse, Nicolas Chartier, Jonathan Deckter, Greg Strause, Colin Strause.

Crew: Director, writer: Sebastian Gutierrez. Camera (color): Cale Finot. Editor: Matt Mayer. Music: Rachel Zeffira.

With: Abbey Lee, Ciaran Hinds, Carla Gugino, Matthew Beard, Dylan Baker.

More Film

  • Malcolm D Lee Uptown Saturday Night

    'Girls Trip' Director Malcolm D. Lee Boards 'Space Jam 2'

    “Girls Trip” director Malcolm D. Lee is replacing Terence Nance as director of “Space Jam 2,” starring LeBron James, for Warner Bros. and James’ SpringHill Entertainment. The departure of Nance, creator of the HBO show “Random Acts of Flyness,” was due to differing visions between Nance and the producers for “Space Jam 2.” Warner Bros. has set [...]

  • Joker movie

    With 'Ad Astra,' 'Joker' Likely, Venice Set for Strong Showing by U.S., Bolstered by Streamers

    Brad Pitt space odyssey “Ad Astra,” Noah Baumbach’s untitled new project, “Joker” with Joaquin Phoenix, Tom Harper’s “The Aeronauts,” Fernando Meirelles’ “The Pope,” the new “Rambo” installment, and heist thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” starring Mick Jagger as a reclusive art dealer, all look bound for the Venice Film Festival, sources tell Variety. The fest [...]

  • CGV's Massive Imax Screen Order Shows

    CGV's Massive Imax Screen Order Shows Optimism for Chinese Exhibition

    Korean cinema giant CGV has signed a deal with Imax to install a further 40 giant screens in movie theaters in China. The deal suggests that China’s multiplex building boom still has some way to run, and that at least one Korean company is still willing to invest in China, despite China’s currently boycott of [...]

  • BAFTA headquarters at 195 Piccadilly, London

    BAFTA Undertakes Major Renovation of Its London Headquarters

    BAFTA has undertaken a major renovation of its London headquarters that will double the building’s capacity and increase space devoted to the British academy’s programs to promote skills training and new talent. Work has already begun on the $31 million overhaul, which is expected to take two years. In the interim, BAFTA will relocate its [...]

  • Andhadhun

    Booming Digital Lifts Eros Indian Film Distribution Giant

    Eros International, India’s largest and most controversial film distributor, says that its digital revenues now outstrip conventional theatrical and syndication revenues. Its Eros Now streaming platform claims 18.8 million paying subscribers. The New York-listed company reported annual results that were distorted by multiple adjustments to presentation. Reported revenues in the year to end of March [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Second Huayi Brothers Film Is Canceled as Company's Losses Mount

    Still reeling from the cancellation of the theatrical release of its blockbuster “The Eight Hundred,” production studio Huayi Brothers has been hit with another setback: Its comedy “The Last Wish” has also been quietly pulled from China’s summer lineup. Both films have fallen afoul of China’s increasingly heavy-handed censors. The unwelcome development comes as Huayi [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content