Harvest Lake (2016)
A group of friends embark on a trip into the forests of Indiana but their lives are utterly changed forever when they encounter an unknown presence in the local lake which wants them, very badly.
Ellie Church - Jennifer
Jason Crowe - Josh
Tristan Risk - Cat
Dan Nye - Ben
Kevin Roach - Mark
Scott Schirmer sent shockwaves through the horror community with his astonishing and deeply disturbing Found based on the book of the same name. A festival hit that won even more fans when it came to home formats, it’s one of the most startling serial killer stories in recent years. While a spin-off of Found was made, Headless which was based on the movie inside the movie, Scott chose not to direct it because he didn’t want to become pigeonholed. Instead he and collaborator/producer Brian K. Williams went in a totally different direction, spending $6000 of their own money to create a whole different of horror film The result is the deeply unsettling, sexually charged and dreamlike Harvest Lake, an unforgettable experience.
Four friends head off into the forests of Indiana to enjoy a weekend away to celebrate the birthday of Josh (Jason Crowe – Dead Moon Rising, The Legend of Wasco). Joining them is his girlfriend Cat (Tristan Risk – American Mary, The Editor), her friend Jennifer (Ellie Church – Headless, Frankenstein Created Bikers) and her gay friend Ben. Fearing she’d be the third wheel Jennifer invited her recently single friend to keep her company. What begins as celebratory hijinks and the making of a new friend begin to change into something quite different. The woods have strange objects growing among the trees and plants, taking on characteristics of sexual organs they ooze fluids that become ever more enticing for the group to taste. The friends begin to act strangely, their sexual inhibitions beginning to leave them as the night goes on and the ever growing presence from the lake will take these five people to places they could never have dreamed of.
Harvest Lake comes out of far, far left field and is unlike anything else you will see all year. Harvest Lake is all about sex. These are adult people consenting in very public displays of affection, having conversations with each other about sexual experiences, and indulging in innuendo. These early scenes are important because when sex is normally used in films it’s for one of two reasons: as a gratuitous scene to add some titillation for the audience or to add some horror in the form or sexual assault to a character, normally a woman. Harvest Lake has a lot of sexual content in it but all of it is consensual and as tentacles and strange liquid-oozing pods start to appear that consensual sex becomes stripped of all inhibition. That leads to compulsion and the ultimate horror of the film and deeply strange final sequence that by design will leave viewers wondering just what in the hell they are watching.
A personal quirk of mine is that stories and situations that combine sexual situations with horror often leave me deeply unsettled. Much like David Cronenberg’s Shivers this single-mindedness, the stripping away of social structure or taboo, it goes against everything that most of us grow up with and the values we have learned. For those that enjoy sex however, the horror in having every part of your humanity stripped away except for sexual desire is utterly dehumanizing. It makes us no more than the strange fleshy sacks of fluid which populate Harvest Lake. Giving yourself entirely over to your most base sexual instincts eschews even the act of reproduction, the horror of your life no longer filled with any meaning, not even that of self-preservation. In this dreamlike setting there is no logic provided, no explanation as to what the final goal here is, all kept in the abstract. Even the final scene gives no sense of closure or catharsis, you are left floating in the lake trying to understand what has driven the events you have seen.
An incredibly game cast who was up for anything and everything really helps add a believability to what the characters are giving themselves over to. All five main cast members end up with their mouths on various parts of each others’ bodies, and that’s just the start of it. A great deal of nudity, often combined with slime or the milk-like fluid of the fleshy but alien sacks is just kinda gross, but everybody commits. Added to this is the slow-moving, dreamlike cinematography which is agonizingly slow at times. Agonizing in that the viewer knows that unnatural things are creeping into the edges of the beautiful scenery we are seeing but we are not allowed the chance to see it, we are trapped looking at this beauty. Indeed when we do get glimpses of these strange objects that repulse while resembling sexual organs the sound design includes the quickening of breath from an unseen sources or the swelling score which feels unnatural and discordant, adding to the discomfort. As sexually appealing as the cast may be it is this distorted version of their sexuality which leads to the most horror.
Harvest Lake is not going to be for everybody, I don’t even know if it was for me. This is an extremely disquieting film with its dreamlike pacing, atmospheric score and a very committed cast. If you are a fan of Cronenberg or Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession you might feel right at home here but for others this is a challenging film. Harvest Lake challenges our ideas about sex, pokes at our own inhibitions and hang-ups, and dares us to find arousal and in what we’re seeing. That is where the true horror lies, in our own desire to give over to what the film is showing us, to want that for the characters and for ourselves in spite of the consequences.