Pills, potatoes and teenage perils

Tasha (Zoe Levin) has a talk with Casper (Emory Cohen, in a “stellar performance”).   Photo by Steve Capitano Calitri
Tasha (Zoe Levin) has a talk with Casper (Emory Cohen, in a “stellar performance”). Photo by Steve Capitano Calitri

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON |  With excellent acting, a timely plot about today’s exploding prescription-pill drug trade and an overall impressive authenticity, “Beneath the Harvest Sky” is a powerful movie that will stay with you after the viewing.

A full-length independent feature film, it was co-written and co-directed by husband-and-wife team Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, who live in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The two met while working for Midwestern TV news stations, and their journalistic, fact-gathering training, no doubt, helped add to the film’s realistic feeling.

Directed by Aron Gaudet & Gita Pullapilly
Screenplay by Aron Gaudet & Gita Pullapilly
Runtime: 116 minutes
Opens May 2, at Cinema Village
22 E. 12th St. (btw. University Place & Fifth Ave.)
Call 212-924-3363 or visit cinemavillage.com
Also available on iTunes & VOD

They shot it in Van Buren, in northern Maine, where they — as well as the film’s actors — did extensive research, learning all that they could from the locals.

“We talked to everyone,” said Gaudet, who grew up in the state.

New York City native Emory Cohen, 24, a graduate of Greenwich Village’s own progressive Elisabeth Irwin High School, on Charlton St., turns in a stellar performance in the film’s main role of Casper Coty.

Casper and his best friend, Dominic, portrayed by Australian actor Callan McAuliffe, are saving up money to buy a car and get out of their small, dead-end town.

School isn’t for Casper, who gets booted out of English class and into trouble for acting disrespectfully during a discussion, fittingly, of the classic S.E. Hinton coming-of-age novel, “The Outsiders.”

While Dominic is working, at least part-time, in the potato harvest, the area’s traditional economy, Casper is immersed in the family business, the drug trade. However, Dominic, unfortunately for him, is also involved in the latter as Casper’s sidekick.

When Casper’s girlfriend, Tasha — played by Zoe Levin — tells him she’s pregnant, he is determined to become a provider and score a big deal he’s working on to smuggle drugs across the border to Canada.

Meanwhile, Dominic’s harvest girlfriend, Emma — Sarah Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland’s daughter — is striving for a better life, too, but it’s through college, and she doesn’t see Dominic as part of her future plans.

In one of the film’s lighter moments, Casper and Dominic go around to local seniors’ homes and buy up all their pill supplies. The seniors gladly sell their bottles of prescription painkillers (no doubt, opioids, like Oxycontin) to the teens, at a presumably marked-up price.

The Drug Enforcement Agency soon gets on the case, though, and the two friends find themselves in far deeper than they ever expected — with tragic consequences.

Throughout the movie, the landscape and culture of northern Maine is richly and lovingly depicted.

This reviewer is no fan of the shaky handheld camera technique, where the frame is always restlessly shifting and jiggling slightly to lend a “realistic” feeling. But, in the end, it doesn’t detract too much here.

And the cinematography is terrific, with images that linger in the mind’s eye — a distraught Emma walking on the train tracks in golden afternoon sunlight; the whooping youths in a truck at night shining a floodlight at a fleeing moose on the highway; and the ever-churning, spud-laden conveyor belts of the potato harvest.

Little snippets of French are occasionally dropped — “C’est bon,” Dominic tells a man selling a car. Meanwhile, Cohen’s Maine accent is very natural and convincing.

Talking about Cohen, Gaudet told Portland’s WCSH TV, “People think, like did you find him in Aroostook County? Because he just seems like he’s from the county, he’s just like this so full-on county kid.”

In another presumably authentic touch, Casper totes around a mini Howitzer-like “potato gun,” which he likes to blast at stuff for destructive kicks.

The minimal score is funky blues-rock that fits the mood.

Like “The Outsiders,” this movie has a strong emotional pull. Just as in that novel, the main characters are likable and sympathetic, yet caught up in a no-win situation.

Unlike so much of today’s schlocky teen entertainment, this film’s narrative feels completely real, to the point of being almost like a documentary — again, no doubt, owing to the filmmakers’ news background, plus the cast’s fine acting.

“To me,” Gaudet said in a TV interview, “I connect with it because I grew up in a small town in Maine and dreamed of something bigger. And that’s the heart of the story, these two kids that kind of want to go out and forge this path to some future.”