Are you currently heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? Or are you already in New Orleans, getting drunk and dreaming about how many beads you’ll end up with by the end of Tuesday night? If that’s the case, have fun but be careful. New Orleans is a town that’s full of ghosts and voodoo.
At least, that’s what the movies would have you believe. Whenever you see a horror film that’s set in New Orleans, you know that voodoo is going to somehow play into it. The other thing that you can usually count on is that there will be at least one scene set during Mardi Gras. Really, that’s not surprising. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is not only a great party but it’s also uniquely cinematic in a way that Mardi Gras in Dallas never is.
(Yes, we celebrate Mardi Gras in Dallas. It’s nothing to get too excited about.)
The 2018 film, Gothic Harvest, is all about Mardi Gras and voodoo. When four college students head down to New Orleans for the party of the year, they have no idea that they’re about to get sucked into a centuries old curse. When Hope (Abbie Gayle) meets the handsome and enigmatic Gar (Ashley Hamilton, who also directed the film), she goes off with him without bothering to tell her friends where she’s going. That turns out to be a mistake because it turns out that Gar is a member of a cursed family. The family is immortal but that immortality comes with a price. Every year, they have to find and sacrifice a young woman in order to stay alive. It’s all because the family, centuries ago, ran afoul the queen of New Orleans voodoo, Marie Laveau (Janee Michelle).
Hope’s friends are concerned about her disappearance but they can’t get anyone to help them out. After all, it’s Mardi Gras and the entire city is full of people who are probably going to wake up in a strange bed with a hangover on Wednesday morning. However, Hope’s friends do eventually run into an undercover cop named Detective Hollis (Bill Moseley). Hollis has an impressive beard and brags about how his favorite band is Pantera. He seems to be a bit strange but he agrees to help the girls look for Hope.
Hope, meanwhile, has now met the cursed and immortal Boudine family and, not surprisingly, they’re an interesting group of characters. What distinguished them from other cursed immortals is that they all seem to be hate being stuck with each other but they hate the idea of dying even more. So, they keep doing what they have to do even though it makes them all miserable. The family matriarch is Griselda (Lin Shayne) while her daughter, Amelia (Sofia Mattson), is a self-styled dominatrix. And then there’s Dolly (Ciara Rizzo), who is obsessed with dolls.
Gothic Harvest is a bit of a strange viewing experience. This was Ashley Hamilton’s directorial debut and the film itself can be confusing upon first viewing. The timeline jumps back and forth, from the past to the present, and it can often be hard to keep track of just who is doing what or why. It’s hard not to feel that the film might have worked better if it had dropped the modern storyline and instead just concentrated on telling the story of how the family came to be cursed. That said, Gothic Harvest does occasionally achieve a dream-like intensity and Hamilton makes good use of New Orleans’s spooky atmosphere. This is a flawed film that doesn’t really work but I would still be interested in seeing what Hamilton directs next.
The cast is a bit of a mixed bag. Hope and her friends are not particularly memorable but Bill Moseley and Lin Shaye are both ideally cast. Moseley, in particular, appears to be having fun and there’s a great scene where he sits in a truck and recites some of the worst pick-up lines ever. Finally, Janee Michelle goes totally over the top as Marie Laveau but that’s exactly the right approach to take to the character. The Queen of New Orleans Voodoo isn’t going to be a quiet or a reserved character.
For those of you celebrating, have fun but use your common sense. If someone says that he needs to sacrifice you so that his family can continue to live forever, don’t go off with him regardless of how many beads he offers.