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Beneath the Harvest Sky
Beneath The Harvest Sky is reminiscent of mediocre "rural slice of life" indie dramas of the last decade. While trying to stay away from a conventional narrative and attempting to put together an ensemble piece that focuses on characters, writers/directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly forgot to construct characters who are interesting enough and conflicts that are set up properly. The whole thing is unfocused, dull and lifeless.
Someone should have reminded them that their film didn't necessarily have to mirror the grayscale mood of the small Maine potato-farming town they were depicting. Since I'm a firm believer in "It's not what it's about, but how it's about it", I have to imagine that there must have been a way to take such a drab location and such uninteresting characters and still make something fascinating, or at least engaging, out of them.
What we get is the typical "Anti-authoritarian best friends who wish for a life beyond the limitations of rural American life" drama. In this case they are high school seniors and best friends Casper (Emory Cohen), the always confused and angry bad boy who everyone in town thinks will turn into a criminal, and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe), the "good one" who aspires to leave town in the saucy sports car he's been saving for in order to move to Boston.
The problem is that these two characters are not defined in the screenplay beyond their labels, which presents an even bigger issue when Gaudet and Pullapilly attempt to criticize the same labels that small townsfolk stamp on kids like these. That's a valid point to make, but it falls flat on its face when the filmmakers can't give the audience a reason to care for these kids even at a bloated running time of almost two hours.
It looks like Gaudet and Pullapilly were afraid that they might not be able to pull off another feature surrounding this location, so they threw every idea they had into the haphazardly written screenplay in an act of desperation. There are many sub-plots here that don't really connect with Casper and Dominic's story as they are unceremoniously introduced only to fizzle out of existence during the second act.
The only sub-plot that has a beginning, middle and an end sticks out like a sore thumb, since it awkwardly attempts to pull the film into police procedural territory as we watch a bunch of side characters trying to expand their Canadian border prescription drug smuggling operation.
As an amusing side note, the directing duo must have some connections with HBO because Beneath The Harvest Sky is filled with supporting actors from Game of Thrones, True Blood, The Wire, and even Veep. The funniest of this coincidence occur when two characters portrayed by two actors from The Wire are involved in a drug bust. I expected McNulty and Bunk to pop out at any second.
The cinematography brings back an annoying trend that was all the rage in indie films during the 2000s: Unnecessary shaky-cam to infuse a documentary-like feeling. It's okay if the filmmakers have to use handheld shots at times due to a small budget, but when it's obviously used as a stylistic choice, it feels gimmicky and desperate to cover for the lack of a cohesive story.
Despite the annoying use of shaky-cam, the almost grayscale digital photography of Beneath The Harvest Sky is actually quite beautiful. A lot of the outdoor scenes take advantage of natural light and manage to pump life into the 1080p presentation, despite the understandable lack of vibrant colors due to the locations the film depicts. This transfer is clean and crisp, and it's hard to find any video noise.
Beneath The Harvest Sky comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 surround track, as well as DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo. In these cases where a low-key indie drama barely utilizes any of the surround tracks, I wonder why they didn't just spend their probably already small sound budget to put together as good of a 2.0 presentation as possible and forget about a surround mix? The 5.1 track barely has any surround presence and both tracks present the subdued yet clear sound mix pretty well.
Deleted Scenes: The finished film is already overlong and the 10 minutes of deleted scenes presented here don't really add anything.
Inside The Lajoie Farm and Behind The Scenes: Believe it or not, Beneath The Harvest Sky was sponsored by Terra, the company that produces the blue potato chips made out of the potatoes that are harvested by the characters in the film. These three 2-3 minute clips, which are essentially Terra chips commercials, mainly talk about Terra's dedication to supporting the farmers depicted in the film. These clips turn out to be unintentionally funny, because their jolly corporate video look and feel directly contrasts the dreary mood of the feature. Did the representatives at Terra watch the film before they signed on to it?
As a run of the mill indie drama, there isn't anything specifically frustrating in Beneath The Harvest Sky. However, the fact that it's strictly an instantly forgettable middle-of-the-road effort is perhaps an even worse conclusion, since it barely registers emotionally.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com