'The Fields' is a little indie horror flick that puts up a good fight, but in the end gets completely lost in itself. Co-directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni try their hardest to build a suspenseful story of dread surrounding a small farm house encircled by corn fields. So many scenarios are thrown into the movie trying to explain all the weird events happening on the farm, but they never seem to mesh. Almost like a, "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach to movie making.
'The Fields' is said to be "based on actual events," but that means next to nothing in the movie business. The movie centers around a young boy named Steven (Joshua Ormond) who is sent to live with his grandparents after he witnessed his father point a gun at his mom. People in the movie seem to take a sort of laid back attitude about the whole gun thing, thinking that at some point it will blow over and Steven can go back to live with his parents. They're just having a tiff right now.
Bonnie (Tara Reid) is Steven's mother, who is in the movie all of about 5 minutes, seemingly just so they can plaster her name on the cover. She's a boozing alcoholic who apparently drops her son off at the in-laws so she can go bar hopping with her drunkard of a friend. Why Steven ends up hanging with his grandparents Hiney (Bev Appleton) and Gladys (Cloris Leachman) is sort of a mystery, since in real-life the state would've most likely taken Steven into child protection after witnessing his father pull a gun on his mom. But, then we'd have no horror story about cornfields.
This is where the "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach comes in. First, we get constant tales of Charles Manson and his Manson Girls finally being arraigned. Steven keeps asking about Manson and then coincidentally keeps running into a nefarious looking guy and three strange chicks all over town. What could it mean? Second, there's the town recluse Eugene (Louis Morabito) who works at the milk farm and spouts gibberish about squealing pigs and such. Third, there's the oft mentioned horror movies that grandma watches every night which could be making Steven think he's seeing and hearing things that aren't really there. Fourth, there's Steven's weird, apparently inbred cousins, who live with their mumbling mother and slaughter chickens in the basement while laughing. When crazy things on the farm start happening it's take your pick time. It could be any one of the above.
'The Fields' makes sure to cover just about every horror cliché in the book. When Steven goes running off into the cornfields and happens upon a dead body, he comes back and says that he saw a dead girl in the fields. This is instantly brushed off, because he's just a kid, and then it's never brought up again. The camera peers at low angles and gives every ancillary character a scowl just so we can't rule them out as suspects. Steven walks as slowly as humanly possible wherever he goes so the tension can build through rustling bushes and the steadily increasing soundtrack. He even happens upon an amusement park-like place, which is of course abandoned and therefore looks scary. Like I said, no cliché is left unattended.
The movie does try though. Leachman does the best with what she's given, even though the script has her reading some dialogue that is unintentionally funny. The directors never get a truly horrified Leachman to come forth, instead she seems rather despondent about the movie as a whole. Even when the climax approaches Leachman's screams seem more like, "are we done yet?" screams, rather than, "who the hell is out there?" screams.
The biggest problem with the movie is that everything has to be tied together with a simple radio news story at the end. And even when we're given the explanation we have to wonder what sense it made. Why were people attacking the house? Why was there a weird man lying under Steven's bed in one scene? Why did anything happen that in this movie at all? Sometimes horror directors go straight for what they think would be scary and the plot and characters are left to suffer. That's what happened here. It's just too bad that the scary stuff isn't all that scary either.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Breaking Glass Pictures Blu-ray release. The movie is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with the movie being pressed on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc. Region coding is unknown at this time.
'The Fields' was shot digitally with a Sony EX3 HD camera. The 1080p transfer features much of the same digital flatness that we've come to expect from low-budget movies filmed digitally.
'The Fields' has a peculiar look. It's a period piece (1973 to be exact) and the entire movie has been made to look like an old sepia-tone photograph. The edges of the frame have been intentionally darkened to give the movie a weathered look. Color has been de-saturated on purpose to give it an eerie, older feeling. Depending on your own tastes all this could end up being a good or bad thing. Personally, I thought darkening the edges was a bit much, since detail gets lost in the crushing blackness around the border of the frame, but again it was all intentional.
Throughout the movie the visuals appear flat and dimensionless. Even close-ups yield only marginal detail. Much of the movie appears soft, which could also be a deliberate choice in order to give it an antique look. The problems really come when night falls. Crushing is a huge problem here. Where dark inky blacks should be, there are instead voids of icky blue-blacks that really hamper the image. Banding can be seen throughout also. I thought I noticed blocking artifacts whenever Steven took off running through the cornfields. The movie doesn't really do great with fast moving scenes.
There are some good visuals to the movie though. A few crane shots take in country skylines with commendable detail (even though edges are still darkened for effect). Daylight scenes are passably enjoyable as far as edge definition and detail go. Despite the visual effects added in post-production this movie looks like any other sub-par, low-budget Blu-ray out there.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track for 'The Fields' is just as underwhelming as the video.
Dialogue is consistently quiet. Leachman mumbles many of her lines, especially in one weird scene where she's talking while stuffing her mouth, and those lines are almost impossible to hear. On the other end of the spectrum the "Boom!" noises that happen when something scary occurs are cranked way up. Crashing windows are played at an ear-splitting volume, which is weird because Hiney's shotgun blows aren't nearly as loud as breaking glass in this movie. The movie's soundtrack seems to be all over the place. Sometimes really loud other times extremely soft. It never feels like the music has an enveloping effect, it's simply being thrown at you from the front channels.
There's little, to no, help from the rear channels. Even though this is technically a surround sound event I had a hard time hearing any sort of helpful ambiance come from the rear speakers. It's not the worst audio presentation I've heard mostly because I didn't have high expectations to begin with, but it needs a lot of work.
Maybe there's a capable horror movie buried in the tedious layers which have been constructed here. It's almost like Mattera, Mazzoni, and writer Harrison Smith had so many ideas that they tried to cram them all in, but instead of horror they got anarchy. It's a valiant effort though. I wasn't as bored or as annoyed as I was when I watched 'The Wicker Tree' so that's saying something, right? Anyway, just know that the video and audio presentations both leave a lot to be desired. I wouldn't say to avoid this one since it's pretty harmless. It's probably best kept on the rental shelves until you've exhausted all other options though.