Scott Schirmer is one of my favorite up-and-coming directors in the horror genre. In 2012 he brought us his debut film, 'Found' - A coming of age film about a young horror obsessed boy trying to cope with the fact that his older brother is a serial killer - it was easily one of the most gripping movies I had ever seen, and certainly my favorite that year. In 2015 he co-produced 'Headless', a fan funded slasher spin-off that spawned from the success of 'Found', and while both films aimed to captivate and "attack" their audience in different ways (the mind vs the gut), they still shared many similar traits and aesthetics.
'Harvest Lake', on the other hand, is a completely different animal and nothing like his previous work.
The film follows four friends who go to the woods for a birthday celebration and end up slowly being seduced by mother nature (literally, the native flora attempt to seduce it's visitors). Things escalate to the point where all inhibitions are eventually let go, and the group get tangled in a wild, sticky, web of paranoia and hedonism; the whole thing unraveling slowly until reaching the big climax (no pun intended). There really is no way to explain the what and how's without spoiling it all, so it's best you just go in with as little information as possible, and experience it.
As I mentioned before this is vastly different than Schirmer's other films. It's very Sci-Fi in feel for one, with the over all tone feeling like something along the lines of a cross between 'Under the Skin' and 'Honeymoon'. Some have even gone as far as to compare it to David Cronenberg's 'Shivers'; fitting considering the way Schirmer utilizes sexual themes here. The end result really feels like a late night "Skinemax" produced 'X-Files' episode.
Yeah, if you haven't figured it out by now, 'Harvest Lake' is a very sexual film. That said, it may not be what you're expecting looking at it on the surface; it isn't used as a gimmick, it serves a purpose. If the expectation is some T&A campy horror romp in the vein of a Troma film, you couldn't be more wrong; the sexuality is strategically used as a chess piece to push the narrative forward. It's honestly very refreshing to see, especially in a genre where sex is utilized more often than not, as a shallow trope.
It's also worth mentioning the film's amazing score, one that easily stands with some of the best of the last couple years. It's moody, atmospheric, hypnotic and better yet, works exceedingly well with the cinematography (major props to Brian Williams). The sweeping shots of the lake, the still shots of the serene yet ominous forest, all of it coupled with Adam Robl's and Shawn Sutta's work makes for a foreboding and dark harmony that flows together so well, creating very effectively, a dream-like feel.
Of course, that harmony should extend to the film's actors, their performance being paramount to selling us on the believability of it all. Thankfully the entire cast does a solid job with their roles, and if you're familiar with the indie horror scene, you'll find some familiar faces. The two leading ladies are scream queens Ellie Church ('Headless', 'Mania', 'The Legend of Wasco') and Tristan Risk ('American Mary', 'The Editor', 'Madre de Dios'); both do a great job as the vixens of the film and strike a great balance between being playful teases and intoxicating temptresses depending on the context of the scene. Jason Crowe, Dan Nye, and Kevin Roach all pull their own weight as well, each bringing great energy to the characters they play, Jason Crowe in particular doing a damn fine job playing Josh as the vulnerable fifth wheel so to speak, making it easier to sympathize with his particular plight. It's funny, you'd think with a cast this small, keeping things fresh and varied through the entirety of the film's running time would be a challenge, but that's simply not the case with 'Harvest Lake', so kudos.
Gotta say though, as positive as this all sounds, 'Harvest Lake' wasn't an easy film to review. Totally unlike anything I was expecting, the first viewing left me feeling bit unsure if I had enjoyed it as much as I had anticipated, what with my preconceived notions about the film being completely subverted. However, the second go round, understanding what the film actually is and accepting it for that, everything clicked, and I totally get Scott Schirmer's vision here (or at least I think I do, heh). Regardless, I'm left with a film that I can't recommend highly enough. Very few filmmakers are taking risks like this, and even fewer doing so with a quality product, so let's hope it pays off for Schirmer. Still early in his career and nary a dud in sight, it'll be interesting to see what he tries to tackle next within the genre; whatever it is, we're confident it'll be gold. This latest film, being as out there as it is, tackling the subject matter that it does, could have easily left me feeling lukewarm, but the water's fine, so take a dip in 'Harvest Lake'.