If the new hard times have been addressed in The Place Beyond the Pines and Out of the Furnace, films that depict hardscrabble America as rugged and feral, then Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly’s Beneath the Harvest Sky is those dramas’ Gus Van Sant-influenced cousin, detailing rural socioeconomic travails from a more youthful, romantic perspective.
Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) are best friends in a poor Maine town who dream of escaping to Boston, an outpost that feels no closer than the moon. In a forgotten corner of the U.S., neither has much in the way of economic opportunity: Dominic works the potato harvest, while Casper apprentices for his drug dealer father (Aidan Gillen).
Yet the narrative is the least interesting thing about this perceptive, sometimes poetic feature. Gaudet and Pullapilly have a background in documentaries, and there’s a convincing naturalism to their storytelling.
Teenagers get into car chases with moose, fight at concerts in dirt fields, and shoot potato cannons, all to find some small pleasure outside their tedious routines, and it’s all captured with an unstinting gaze, the filmmakers’ takes long and camera handheld. The naturalism is sometimes infused with Van Sant’s romanticism, as in the potato scenes or a sequence where Dominic and Casper shove a beat-up car off a cliff.
While the narrative does make late, unfortunate lurches into overcooked-thriller territory — complete with an ending that exemplifies the term “deus ex machina” — the images of young small-town lives resonate and linger.