16th November 2020 (UK VOD Premiere)
A devout community suffering from a plague is torn apart by a beautiful young woman and the forces of witchcraft, black magic, and possession.
Thomas Robert Lee
Hannah Emily Anderson, Jared Abrahamson, Catherine Walker
Suspected Witchcraft is afoot in Thomas Robert Lee’s simmering slow-burner Blood Harvest.
We’re told through scrolling text that in 1873, a group of families separated from the Church of Ireland and established an isolated settlement in North America. Following a phenomena dubbed as ‘The Eclipse’ in 1956, a pestilence swept through the community, poisoning the soil and wiping out the livestock.
Everyone was affected – all, that is, except for a farmstead belonging to Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker; A Dark Song). Her land remained prosperous. What the townsfolk didn’t know was Agatha had given birth to a girl during The Eclipse and named her Audrey. She was kept secret from the community, continuously hidden away and bundled into boxes to remain out of sight. Now, 17 years after The Eclipse, Audrey has witnessed the poor treatment from others and is getting frustrated with being shielded from the World. It’s a dangerous combination. One that can only end in disaster.
Despite being set in 1976, Blood Harvest keeps its aesthetic and setting to that of the late 1800’s. There’s the occasional visual cue to remind us (and indeed the town’s residents) that the times have moved on while they are quite literally stuck in the past. This creative decision makes for some interesting shots, but ultimately I felt it wasn’t utilized to its full effect. At times, it even irked me that the solution to most of their problems was just a few miles away, but their stubbornness to live like Pilgrims meant they lived in hardship for seventeen years. Maybe that’s just be being ignorant and showing my own poor self-restraint, but if my family was dying from lack of food, I’d accept and look for any help I could get.
There’s no qualms with the performances here though. Everyone is excellent, especially Catherine Walker, who plays Audrey’s mother Agatha. Don McKellar deserves special recognition too as Bernard Buckley, a figure who plays an instrumental part in the proceedings. Jessica Reynolds, in what is surprisingly her first full-length feature, depicts the resentment of Audrey fantastically and more importantly showcases the potential of Reynolds.
Blood Harvest is certainly more mood than story. Its a notably bleak picture, from its drained colour palette to its relentlessly pessimistic plot beats. It’s best described as being in the same bloodline as M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and a sort of broad-strokes retelling of Robert Eggers’ hard to swallow The Witch. If you found enjoyment in either of those, there’s a high chance you’ll yield some level of entertainment from Blood Harvest.
Fantastic performances across the board
Old-fashioned, patiently paced storytelling
The slow nature of the film occasionally works against it
Ambiguous to a fault