Film Review: Elizabeth Harvest

An older man and his sheltered bride are not what they seem in this modern spin on a classic dark fairytale theme.
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Pretty, unworldly Elizabeth (Abbey Lee) has always dreamed of being swept off her feet by a sophisticated, wealthy, brilliant and older man like Henry (Ciarán Hinds), a husband who would take her away from everything mean and coarse and mundane and ensconce her in a castle where everything is beautiful.

To be sure, Oliver’s castle is a sleekly modern marvel of glass and concrete; it’s atop a hill at the end of a winding road and luxuriously appointed, complete with staff—cool, efficient Claire (Carla Gugino) and the slim, blind but thoroughly capable Oliver (Matthew Beard). The grounds are gorgeous, the shelves filled with books, walls hung with paintings and closets bursting with beautiful clothes, all in Elizabeth’s size, the rooms all accessible via state-of-the-art biometric touchpad technology. All Henry asks of Elizabeth is that she not enter one chamber—the one of which she immediately asks, “What’s in this room?” To say more about the plot is fair neither to the film nor to viewers: A story that so cleverly combines the old and the new is something that deserves to be enjoyed as it unfolds.

Fancy open-view interiors and deluxe appliances notwithstanding, all this rings some very old bells whose tones summon Bluebeard and Frankenstein in equal measure (“Elizabeth” is the name of the mad doctor’s innocent bride), along with a creepy touch of Snow White. “Why would he pick a girl like me to marry?” wonders Elizabeth aloud, a slim ghost of a woman in a white satin nightgown. “I’m very simple.” Suffice it to say that the answer is both obvious and yet not as basic as it seems—Sebastian Gutierrez’s delicately baroque shocker takes its first wayward curve less than half an hour in and then builds from there. Elizabeth is a the archetypal bride who has no idea what she’s married into, but she’s something more as well, and that’s what makes Elizabeth Harvest both great genre fun and genuinely horrifying. Even Disney has reworked its simpering princesses in recognition of the fact that a heroine who’s only done to is less interesting than one who does something.

It’s hard to watch Elizabeth Harvest without thinking of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a bold rereading of classic fairytales from ”Puss in Boots” to “Sleeping Beauty” that, rather than relegating them to the long, long-ago past, takes the old tropes and gives them little twists that makes them feel discomfitingly new and oh-so-very of our say more would be to undermine the film’s sly but propulsive narrative, which manages to play fair and still deliver some unexpected shocks. The filmisn’t a genre changer, but it’s elegant and admirably remorseless—and when it breaks bad, it breaks very bad indeed.