The Fields (2012)
This will be a strange review for Anything Horror, in that I will start off by stating that this is *not* a horror movie, at least not in the way that it is being advertised and portrayed in the artwork and the trailer. You’d be forgiven for being fooled into thinking that this is some CHILDREN OF THE CORN-style supernatural or slasher movie. It’s neither of these, and this deception does a disservice to the filmmakers and those involved, and while some might argue that I’m spoiling it by revealing such things, I believe that the movie deserves to be approached and accepted for what it is, rather than what some might expect it to be. But there *is* horror here, just not the type summoned by Satan or falling from space.
THE FIELDS is based on events which apparently occurred to writer Harrison Smith. It’s Pennsylvania, 1973, and the news is filled with reports of the notorious Charles Manson being up for parole, though what he did in the first place is lost on young Steven (Joseph Ormond, BITTERSWEET), whose parents are going through, shall we say, difficulties (and Steven walking downstairs to find Dad pointing a shotgun at Mom certainly qualifies as “difficulties”).
Against the wishes of Dad (Faust Checho), Mom (Tara Reid, who gets top billing despite hardly being in the film) puts Steven in the temporary care of her parents on their farm while she works things out with her husband. Grandpa (Bev Appleton, THE NEW WORLD) and Grandma (Oscar winner Cloris Leachman, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) are ambivalent about Mom’s plans, but still welcome Steven. I have to say I wish I had grandparents like these: they swear, they fart, they argue (good naturedly), and Grandma stays up late to watch classic horror like CARNIVAL OF SOULS and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD!
But they do stress that Steven stay out of the nearby cornfields (with Grandma going into wonderfully gruesome detail about how he’ll get lost and die and his body will rot…). So Steven seems content to stick around the farm and play with his dinosaurs and Godzilla and Ultraman toys. But the lure of the cornfield proves too great to withstand for long, and he enters – eventually stumbling onto the body of a young woman on a mattress, the heroin needle nearby illustrative of what had happened – at least, to anyone who isn’t a young boy.
Steven’s story is put down as part of his overactive imagination. But a subsequent visit leads him further out, to an abandoned amusement park (filmed at Bushkill Park, said to be one of the oldest amusement parks in America, originally built in the 1920s). And after a visit into the funhouse, and running into a strange figure in a red circus master’s outfit within, Steven rushes back. But something seems to have followed him back to his grandparents’ farmhouse. Sticks flung into the cornfield are flung back. Rocks are thrown through the window. The dogs go missing, and only their collars are found. But what’s the cause? Is it the hippie girls that look too much (in Steven’s eyes) like the members of the Manson Family? Is it some of the bat-crazy relatives of Steven that he never knew he had until he meets them on a family visit? Or is it something supernatural?
Okay, it’s not supernatural.
Don’t go into THE FIELDS expecting breasts, blood, gore, or a high body count. But I will still classify this as a horror film, in the way that one of Stephen King’s non-supernatural stories still reads as horror. Co-directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni certainly filmed this with the same “feel” as a traditional horror film, and pay homage to the movies that they (and I) grew up on. The setting, for one thing: shot fully on location in the Pocono Mountains region in Bartonsville, Pennsylvania as well as Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, there is an air of absolute authenticity. Lonely farmhouses surrounded by the corpses of abandoned vehicles and farm equipment, neglected cornfields rising high and forbidding (especially for a small child), Mattera and Mazzoni successfully capture what the directors of the numerous CHILDREN OF THE CORN movies repeatedly failed to do: make such a setting seem truly menacing. And then, to throw in an abandoned amusement park, with faded pictures of laughing clowns on the walls – eek!
In addition to the superb setting, we have the acting. Joshua Ormond carries the role quite well, lacking any obnoxious or pretentious qualities. He portrays a very ordinary kid, not overly bright or courageous, impressionable and oftimes shy and fearful among strangers – and I like his taste in toys. Bev Appleton plays the laid-back, easy-going Grandpa, who obviously adores his wife despite the banter between them, and his grandson. But it’s Cloris Leachman who takes the movie. The cinematic trope of the profane old lady may be worn in the last few decades, but Leachman makes her role multilayered and realistic. Her acting chops are displayed in scenes such as when she drops the N-Bomb in front of Steven (not in hatred, but more in that matter-of-fact way that people of her generation did), but when Steven picks up the word, you see the regret in her expression, and she gently convinces him to use a more appropriate word.
The pace of the movie is a slow, subtle burn, but the filmmakers are building a story about a kid gradually facing up to the fact that his family, and his world, are a little – okay, a lot – more complicated, even crazier than he expected (with the story of Manson ever in the background, a metaphor). It avoids the schmaltz and moralising of bigger movies, not requiring us to be beaten over the head with some profound life lesson. And it’s a more accurate portrayal of the Seventies than other movies, which tend to go overboard with the depiction of the period. It isn’t perfect. The plot will (at the risk of spoiling it) seem… lacking, at least in consequence. The events are realistic rather than cinematic, deaths occur but aren’t like what you normally expect to see in a movie, questions are left unanswered, and the story ends up being a slice of a kid’s life rather than something epic.
THE FIELDS is quite a good film. Not quite a good *horror* film, but one still worth the watch.
Director: Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien