John McNaugton's last feature-length film was 1998's "Wild Things." In the fifteen years since, he's seen his sordid pot boiler starring Neve Campbell, Kevin Bacon and Matt Dillon achieve cult status that led to a direct-to-video sequel.
In "The Harvest," Michael Shannon ("Take Shelter," "Revolutionary Road") and Samantha Morton ("The Messenger," "In America") star as a professional couple married with a sick teenage son (Charlie Tahan) and living in a secluded environment. As their son grows closer to a teenage neighbor (Natasha Calis) who just moved in to the area, the relationship between the boy and his caring, carefully protective mother becomes fraught.
Indiewire caught up with McNaughton on the set of the film earlier this month.
"My first impressions of the script were that it was a really compelling story and that it was really creepy, really dark," McNaughton explained. "It isn't a boogy-boogy horror film, it is something deeper. I worked with the writer [Stephen Lancellotti], and we developed into something more complicated."
McNaughton is no stranger to horror, having directed "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" in 1986, based on the real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. "I love good horror films, but there aren't that many." McNaughton said. "A good horror script is a rare bird. 'The Harvest' was just the right one. It's extremely dark, it's not at all gory or exploitative. It's based on the darkness all human beings are capable of."
Also in the cast is Peter Fonda, who plays a grandfather in the film. McNaughton chatted about his actors, saying, "We have three Academy Award nominees…it's incredible! We ran an improv scene last night with Samantha and Michael, and to see those two work…! The two kids we have are insanely gifted, well-behaved, too, I might add."
When asked how the film is shaping up, McNaughton said, "[Producer] Steve Jones and I have been looking at the footage. We have a great cinematographer [Rachel Morrison], and it looks great. The performances are insanely wonderful. It's really a treat to have actors of this caliber. The surprise will be the kids' performances and how good they are. Samantha and Michael are great — no surprise there — but the kids will go on to rewarding careers."
"The Harvest" is also produced and will be sold internationally by Elephant Eye Films. Elephant Eye principal Kim Jose chatted with Indiewire to explain the gestation of this project: "Stephen Lancellotti, the screenwriter is a good friend of mine. We met at a production company where I was the head of development. He quit to write this movie, and we decided we'd develop it together. It's been developing for years. The movie is really quite exciting but it's very dark. It took the right people to recognize the potential. After two years, we got John McNaughton attached. It's such an interesting project — with John and the genre and the actors."
"What sold me on the project initially," Jose explained, "was how surprising it was. It's an incredibly compact script, and it also broke the mold for art house indie movies. There's a wonderful mainstream appeal for an art house movie. It's a complex subject matter: How far will you go to save your child's life? How far will you unravel to save the one you love? There's something remarkable about the script. It's rare to read something that surprises you when you see what direction the story goes."
The film wrapped shooting in mid-January on location in Palisades in upstate New York and on a stage in Brooklyn.