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Canadian writer-director Thomas Robert Lee’s follow up to his little-known debut Empyrean, Blood Harvest simmers with unease and lingers in the mind – but bites off more than it can chew, leaving a little too much undigested narrative food for thought behind. That said, there’s quite a bit of lusty scenery-chomping on offer from the cast, giving this a charming luridness that could generate a small cult following.
For reasons that are never entirely clear (and which suggest there was a major whittling down of ideas before the last script drafts or final edits), Lee posits a fictitious religious community in the Canadian prairie who all wear Amish-style antiquated 19th-century garb and speak with the Irish accents of their ancestors, even though the year is 1973. While almost all the townsfolk cleave to a version of Church of Ireland Protestantism, Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), a single woman living both literally and figuratively on the edge of the community, has gone all in for some kind of pagan blood magic cult with a coven of crones quite separate from the town.
By letting this satanic craft club (each seems to have a funky crocheted and knitted lace shawl) drink the blood of her 17-year-old daughter Audrey (a translucent Jessica Reynolds) every so often, Agatha has managed to keep her homestead fecund while the crops and livestock of her Christian neighbours wither and die. Also, for reasons never entirely clear, she’s kept Audrey’s very existence a secret, too, hiding her in the house whenever someone comes by. But like some evil version of Disney’s Tangled, this teenage Rapunzel is ready to rebel against her controlling mother and exact a rather disproportionately cruel revenge on the townspeople for being mean to mom.
As an exercise in world-building, this is pretty evocative and impressive stuff. Nevertheless, despite the fact that “harvest” is in the movie’s title, Lee fails to sow and reap spooky payoffs with the same skill deployed in similar features about freaky pagan-antiquated communities such as The Village, The Wicker Man, The Witch or Midsommar, to name but a few. Still, Nick Thomas’s cinematography is terrific and frequently unsettling.
• Blood Harvest is available from 16 November on digital platforms.
Source: The Guardian
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