Sci-fi and arthouse are a volatile mix. The combination can create masterpieces like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or 2001: A Space Odyssey. But done poorly, the art can overtake the sci-fi to tell a story that’s too confusing or difficult to be fun.
This film treads that line. Then it plays jump rope with it, borrowing elements from the best science fiction with gorgeous cinematography and minimalistic production.
Elizabeth Harvest is a 2018 sci-fi horror movie written and directed by Sebastián Gutierréz. He also wrote Snakes on a Plane, but this story couldn’t be more different. It opens like a gothic novel, with the titular Elizabeth being whisked away from her wedding by her new husband Henry. Suddenly, she has to figure out how to care for his large home, despite the somewhat shifty housekeeper. It sounds like the opening to Rebecca, but it’s actually just the setup for a shocking sci-fi twist. (Spoilers ahead!)
Henry gives Elizabeth a tour of the house, explaining that everything within it belongs to her — “all the jewels, the clothes, the money in the safe” — with one big exception. There’s one room she cannot enter.
At first, Elizabeth occupies her time by swimming, trying on clothes, staying out of the way of Claire the housekeeper and Oliver, Henry’s blind adult son. But eventually, she can’t resist and enters the room where she finds... herself.
That’s right, Elizabeth is a clone. When Henry finds out what she knows, he starts attacking her and an artfully shot chase scene begins. Henry eventually grabs Elizabeth's ankle from under a staircase and brutally murders her with a machete. It’s a lot for a protagonist to go through, but smash cut to six weeks later, and (a new version of) Elizabeth is back in her wedding dress being driven home by her new husband.
The cycle continues, but this Elizabeth is luckier. When she discovers Henry’s secret the chase is much more drawn out — and depicted split-screen action that brings to mind Carrie or Kill Bill.
Director Gutierréz told Horror Fuel the approach was more aesthetic-focused than your typical modern thriller.
“It’s influenced by Dario Argento,” he said. “There was a strain of horror in the sixties and seventies that was much more than the jump-scare horror we see today. The pace is slower and it’s much more about colors and atmosphere.”
Though the cast is small, the acting packs a powerful punch. A great deal of exposition is handled by housekeeper Claire (Carla Gugino, Gutierréz’s longtime collaborator and girlfriend). Fans of The Haunting of Bly Manor will recognize her passable British accent. Henry, the protective yet terrifying husband is played by Ciarán Hinds, best known to sci-fi fans as Justice League’s (and the Snyder Cut’s) Steppenwolf.
Hinds’ Henry is unlike any other villain in a horror film. He’s vulnerable, emotional, and sometimes difficult to root against.
“I thought that character deserved not to remain as a monster, which another actor easily could have played him as, but as broken, like a child being very vulnerable and explaining something in Ciaran’s hands is recognizably human,” Gutierréz told The Hollywood Reporter.
Throughout its run, Elizabeth Harvest refuses to follow a set formula. The main character is killed off in the first act, one in a long line of deaths revealed over the course of the movie. Elizabeth, though intentionally devoid of any real personality, morphs into a heroine anyone can root for, and the origin of her creation is far more sinister than she realizes.
Elizabeth Harvest is an artful sci-fi movie, a futuristic arthouse film, and an understated thriller all in one. Creating something that fits into all of those categories may seem impossible, but with multiple Elizabeths, there’s always room to try something new.
Elizabeth Harvest is now streaming on Netflix.