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BLOOD HARVEST (aka THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW) ****

Directed by Thomas Robert Lee.

Starring Jessica Reynolds, Catherine Walker, Jared Abrahamson.

Horror, Canada, 93 minutes.

 

Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Digital Edition 2

 

This Canadian slice of folk horror tells the tale of Audrey Earnshaw, a teenage girl who lives outside a small, remote Protestant village who have cut themselves off from civilisation in devotion to their faith. Audrey’s existence is unknown to the village as she was conceived during an eclipse, since then the village has suffered from blighted crops and infected cattle. If discovered, Audrey’s life could be under threat from the superstitious locals, who it turns out may be onto something, as her growing resentment against them and her protective mother is beginning to manifest itself in an eerie and disturbingly powerful fashion.

 

The film has an atmospheric and wintry quality which is nicely captured in the wide screen photography of the vast, open and unforgiving countryside. The appearance of a small plane in the sky as a small girl in gown and bonnet stares up in wonder is the only reminder that the tale is set in 1973 and nicely sets the towns remote location and nature up. The tale of a small community and teenage girl trying to come to grip with supernatural forces will earn comparisons to Robert Eggers THE WITCH. Whilst it never reaches the malevolent heights of that film it still manages to conjure up its own chilly atmosphere and a sinister atmosphere that increases more and more until its ominous, scream filled ending.

 

The sizable cast carries a few familiar faces, such as Don McKellar and Sean McGinley as the elder statesmen of the village, the more prominent figures of the patriarchal society that Audrey has come to despise for the way they have treated her mother and taught to distrust by the nearby coven who encourage and nurture her magical talents. The struggle and resentment between mother and teenage daughter is also nicely played out, highlighting Jessica Reynolds skill in playing Audrey as angry without being bratty or annoying which could have been the case if not for the skill in characterisation that director Thomas Robert Lee brings out from his own script.

 

At just over an hour and a half he manages to pack a lot into his storyline with its sizable cast and amount of supernatural incident that sits naturally alongside its themes of self-discovery and bigotry. For the most part he refrains from letting the script develop into a hysterical set of revenge driven set pieces, instead carefully pacing out the shocks and chills that are part and parcel of horror cinema. Its restrained style and mature storytelling mark out Lee as a talent to watch with this assured debut that at times also feels reminiscent of Osgood Perkin’s debut THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER which dealt in similar themes in a familiarly chilly locale.

 

BLOOD HARVEST, or to give it its much more original and evocative title THE CURSE OF AUDREY EARNSHAW, was just one of a large number of impressive debut films from across the globe receiving a UK premiere at this years Halloween FrightFest. With talents like Thomas Robert Lee emerging it goes to prove that the horror genre may be in the best health it has been in for many years and it will be interesting to see if he can gift the audience again with something as chilly and threatening as Audrey Earnshaw unleashes here.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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