Gothic Harvest


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Gothic Harvest
"It has a dreamlike quality to it, full of delirious images and fragments of strong ideas but with little coherent sense of story."

Elaborate costumes, street stalls, bustling crowds, beads, lechery, heavy drinking, old men selling trinkets with supposed magic powers - New Orleans during Mardi Gras feels like an endless adventure for four college girls from up north, who love the party spirit and all the clich├ęs of the season. They're out for a good time but this is their last night so they don't want to overdo it - they have to be fit to fly home. This means that whilst flirting is allowed it's not supposed to go too much further. They've also been there long enough to grow leery of skeezy men, so when Hope (Abbie Gayle) is rescued from such an encounter by a handsome local, things seem to be going well - but when she subsequently disappears they begin to suspect that something is very wrong indeed.

Exactly what has happened to Hope is quite different from anything her friends might have imagined. Suffice to say that it's connected with an ancient voodoo curse bestowed upon a well-to-do French family in the mid-19th Century - a curse that has kept them alive for many, many years, but condemned them to live in a repeating cycle which they all, in their different ways, find intolerable. Family matriarch Griselda (Lin Shaye, by far the best thing about the film but with very limited screentime) is particularly unhappy about having found herself stuck in a wheelchair all this time - and stuck with a husband she loathes. Her daughter Amelia (Sofia Mattsson) takes out her frustrations by seducing and torturing mortals, allowing for a bdsm subplot without much, well, plot.

Structured around a cluster of ideas which are only loosely brought together by the plot, the film explores the history and circumstances of the cursed family, the peril faced by Hope, and the search undertaken by her friends and a detective (Bill Moseley) whom they encounter by chance. It has a dreamlike quality to it, full of delirious images and fragments of strong ideas but with little coherent sense of story. Whilst most of the performances work well enough, there are occasional moments of really bad acting or spectacularly cheesy dialogue that make it difficult to immerse oneself and take any of it seriously. There's also some intentional humour but often it's hard to be sure quite what tone director Ashley Hamilton is aiming for.

In most films, heavy narration and scenes packed with exposition are unwelcome. Here they're actually a relief because without them the rest wouldn't make sense at all. In some ways the dreamlike style suits the subject matter: it might be seen as a reference to the loss of perspective created by repetition or long life, or as a refection of the instability in mythic narratives associated with Mardi Gras, but the end result is a mess. Hamilton seems to have tried to pack in every major folkloric theme - modern and centuried - associated with the city. As a result, he hasn't had time to develop any of them or draw out the character relationships which are the most compelling part of the film. Gothic Harvest is subsumed by its own ambition.

Reviewed on: 09 Oct 2019
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Four young women visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras fall foul of a family living under a centuries old voodoo curse.

Director: Ashley Hamilton

Writer: Chris Kobin

Starring: Abbie Gayle, Tanyell Waivers, Sophie Matteson, Lin Shaye, Bill Moseley, Ashley Hamilton, Thomas Francis Murphy, Ashton Leigh

Year: 2019

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: US


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