Elizabeth Harvest: An Entertaining Diversion

Sometimes a film comes along that’s peculiarly off-putting. All the ingredients are there – everything that would signify a great piece of work: it’s stylish, unpredictable, and entertaining. The production is great; there are no glaring errors in the script; the acting often leaves nothing to be desired. And yet…. And yet…. It’s just not satisfying. That film is Elizabeth Harvest.

If Sebastian Gutierrez had made this bombastic, sci-fi Bluebeard parallel 5 or 6 years ago, I’d have loved it. Every image glows with a subtle psychedelic aftertrail; the film frequently dips into red/blue filtered Argento-vision; and the script takes palpable delight in throwing ridiculous, campy twists at the audience with impressive regularity. The problem is that, after Ex Machina and the current wave of new-retro – which climaxed so hard with Mandy that there’s no going back – none of this stuff feels new or original enough to stick in the mind.

Abbey Lee stars as the titular Elizabeth, whisked away to an obscenely rich (and much older) scientist’s (Ciarán Hinds) remote villa as a trophy wife. Bizarrely, the film seems to suggest that both parties genuinely love each other, and that money/image doesn’t come into this relationship. No sooner have the couple settled in than wife has been informed by husband to stay far away from an ominous, glowing blue door that leads to a f o r b i d d e n r o o m. What could possibly go wrong?

Thankfully, Gutierrez wastes no time in making sure that things do go wrong real fast, and then keep going wrong in increasingly bizarre and convoluted ways that make the film supremely unpredictable, despite the fact that most viewers will be able to work out the basic gist of what’s going to happen. Unfortunately, what has been a lot of good, mind-scrambling fun eventually climaxes in that most ungracious of tropes: a lengthy, narrated explanation of the entire plot delivered from a diary of an ancillary character. Yikes.

Still, whilst this thing is firing on all cylinders, it truly is a lot of fun. There’s at least one holy shit moment, and a boatload of fantastic imagery. Even though this thing was probably made on the cheap, its budget has been stretched as if by magic to make it almost look like a crossover-level piece of work.

Lee isn’t the worlds best actor, lets face it, but she does her best with the pulp material, and Hinds is on top form as a menacing representation of male dominance. Matthew Bird’s portrayal of a blind son, on the other hand, is a campy mess whose artifice is evident in all scenes in which it is present. Still, the film’s neon colouration, although aping dozens of other movies both old and new, adds a bit of sparkle to the proceedings, as does a vague hallucinogenic shimmer that covers its daytime scenes. This is a single-location, Rebecca-esque sci-fi chiller that isn’t trying to be a masterpiece, and largely succeeds at what it attempts.

Elizabeth Harvest is that rollercoaster you find at the end of the pier more so than a movie. Riding it at night, neon lights whizzing past like distant constellations in a cosmic blur of energy and exuberance, its rickety charm amuses and thrills. When the carriage stops, sure, the fun is over, and the experience isn’t going to stick in your mind as anything special, but it was just that: a lot of fun.


James is an undergraduate law student at UCL, and London Student's Chief Arts Editor/Film Editor. He wants you to know that Christopher Nolan is overrated.

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