Gothic Harvest (Ashley Hamilton, 2018) ½ out of 4 stars.
It is rare, for me at least, to find a film that seems to fail in almost every aspect, in which every decision and direction seems like the wrong one, and that also happens to star and be co-produced by an actress I have nothing but respect for. Unfortunately, for me this film is director Ashley Hamilton’s Gothic Harvest. It is difficult to sum up the events of this film since there is seemingly so much going on, but the basic premise centers around four women in their mid-twenties who take a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. One of them, Hope (Abbie Gayle), drunkenly goes off with a stranger who takes her to his family home, where she meets matriarch Griselda (Insidious’ Lin Shaye). She soon finds this family is tortured by a centuries-old curse and is unlike any other family. When Hope doesn’t return, the three remaining friends enlist the help of an unprofessional, unhelpful undercover cop to find their friend and save her from the mysterious locals.
The premise sounds interesting enough, right? I thought the same. Unfortunately, the execution … from the writing, to the acting, to the editing, to the direction, the list goes on and on … is extremely underwhelming, if not downright horrendous. The writing leaves much to be desired, with many scenes of on-the-nose dialogue and awkward lines. The characters make some terrible, inexcusable decisions … as may be expected in a horror film (though I hesitate to call this a horror film, even though that’s the genre it is marketed as) … but many of these decisions actually negate and contradict their previous actions or decisions – and not in a “I learned my lesson” type of way; more in a “I forgot to do this” way. There are also several scenes that are quite simply pointless and add nothing to the plot.
From the outset, I could tell I wasn’t going to enjoy this film, with one of the first scenes of the four girls sitting around a table being an early showcase of the below-average acting the film would continue to display. However, when I finally saw Lin Shaye’s character of Griselda appear on screen, I felt a glimmer of hope for the film. I am a huge fan of Shaye’s work in the Insidious films and thought perhaps Shaye could carry an underwhelming horror film like so many other great actors/actresses have. However, not even Shaye could save Gothic Harvest. I surprisingly didn’t even find Shaye’s performance in this film good, which could be a testament to the bad writing. After all, she had some very awkward, strange lines to deliver. Shaye still easily outperforms everyone else in the film, however. Most of the performances are either outrageous, annoying, or stiff – as if they didn’t really know how to act in the given moment, which could be poor direction.
All other aspects aside, the thing that bothered me the most about Gothic Harvest was its editing and sound choices. The transitions from scene to scene were abrupt and awkward, with many scenes seeming to end too quickly, as if there were more to the scene that was just cut for whatever reason. Also, a few scenes made it way too obvious that ADR was used on a specific character; either the lips didn’t quite match or they tried to shy away completely from showing a character’s face. There was also a heavy rock soundtrack that was used throughout the film in quite a few scenes that just didn’t fit the film at all. When something on the screen looked genuinely creepy or disturbing, it was ruined by the obnoxious and bizarre rock track. Many of the transitions used this rock track, too, taking us from a mysterious scene to the streets of New Orleans with an abrupt and loud bang, and taking us completely out of the movie’s grasp.
The overall technical aspects of the film were also poor, with many continuity errors and some scenes with inconsistent background noise varying from shot to shot. Overall, Gothic Harvest is a mess of a movie with almost no redeeming qualities. The half a point I give is for some humor in the film that worked because it was so bad that it was good … so I’m not even sure if I should give it credit for that … and one well-done scene that I actually found effective. Otherwise, the film is not scary at all, most of the humor doesn’t work, and the story is over-the-top and confusing. It seems that all the crops in this harvest are dead.