I recently ordered a limited-edition Blu-ray copy (#238 of 750 to be precise) of a great new indie horror/sci-fi film called Harvest Lake. I was initially drawn to the film due to the ever amazing Tristan Risk in the cast (she of American Mary (my review) and many other great short- and full-length films).
I had little pre-knowledge of the story beyond the fact that it involved four young people, summer, a lake, sex and mayhem ensuing (as always seems to be the case with that combination). Having watched 1000s of hours of films, horror and otherwise, it’s difficult to find films that I can’t mentally fast forward through. It’s hard to keep me guessing and unsure of what’s coming next. So when that happens, my enjoyment level increases immensely.
And that’s what happened here. What begins with what at first seems a cliched set up, soon morphs into a twisting/turning series of events and characters I didn’t see coming. There is equal parts male and female nudity which is different in that women usually bear the brunt of baring flesh in most films, horror in particular. It is clear from the opening sequence that the film appears to be presenting an even-handed approach to things which is a nice change of pace.
I won’t ruin the film with spoilers, but let’s just say the opening is just the warm up to what’s in store with the four main characters arrive at the vacation spot deep in the woods. That’s when the next surprise hits. While there are two men and two women, there aren’t two couples. As it turns out it’s one couple and two of their friends. The male friend happens to be gay. I mention that only in that the surprising twist being that if there are gay characters, or bisexual ones, again it’s usually only the female characters and/or they’re terrible stereotypes. Not here. Well OK, they have fun too…
While it’s a low-key film, it was unusual to note that this is one of the better gay characters portrayed in a film. He’s just a guy who happens to be gay, not a token character or walking stereotype. That was a nice change to see a film finally showing regular characters just being regular people. Writer/director Scott Schirmer quickly won me over with these touches.
Harvest Lake is a descent into sexual madness described as an “erotic mystery-fantasy” with indie star Ellie Church leading the group straight to hell. The next thing that surprises, and for the most part delights, is the use of practical effects versus CG.
I am one who always loves well-done practical f/x and quite a bit is used as the four encounter ever stranger things in woods and lake. They were created by The Clockwerk Creature Company (Headless). I will say that one of the characters transforms at one point into something that was both fantastically done and creepy as shit. A lesser film would have used CG and ruined the scene.
I’ll let you uncover what they find to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say it’s organic and spurns on their carnal carnage. One slight “knock,” and IT IS slight, is that the crystal clear Blu-ray is SO pristine, the beautifully-realized practical f/x are somewhat too vibrant in contrast to everything around them. Again a minor thing that might have been adjusted by muting their color a bit, or if the director had opted for an artificial “grindhouse” look. However, I would argue that this would have made it a completely different film, and while seeing a distressed, badly worn, drive-in version would have been interesting, I’m glad they didn’t go that route.
Speaking of the clarity, this film has some of the clearest audio I’ve heard in a film in ages. The birds in the woods are so crystal clear you are fully sucked into feeling like you’re there. I have a really decent sound bar, but I want to watch again wearing headphones as I can imagine the sound is insanely immersive in a surround set up.
The cast is great and I truly enjoyed their performances. Tristan Risk is always amazing, but so is the rest of the cast including the aforementioned Ellie Church (Headless), Jason Crowe (Dead Moon Rising), Dan Nye (The Legend of Wasco), and Kevin Roach (The Confession of Fred Krueger). Everyone is game to go full on into a ride the breaks down all aspects of friendship, society, boundaries, morality and civilization itself.
And what is the cause? I love a film that doesn’t spoon feed the audience. Harvest Lake does NOT do that. We see what’s happening and what appears to be causing it. What it is and why it’s doing what it’s doing are all left up to the viewer.
So from start to finish, I really loved this film and will absolutely watch it again. I highly recommend you rent or order a copy ASAP. I can’t wait to see more fun from all involved. Well played Harvest Lake… well played.