Fields, The

These Fields are Barren

Main Cast: Joshua Ormond, Cloris Leachman, Bev Applteon

Directors: Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni

Talk about anti-climactic. All the potential in the world counts for absolutely nothing without some kind of payoff, and, unfortunately, that’s the one thing The Fields is missing.

The story is set in the 1970s, supposedly “based on true events” or some such (and considering how little happened here, what the holy hell merited making a movie about it?), and focuses on young Steven (Joshua Ormand, Robot & Frank). After another fight between his parents, Steven is sent to stay with his paternal grandparents on their farm. Nannie (Cloris Leachman, “The Facts of Life”) and Pappie (Bev Appleton, The New World) are doting grandparents, but they have a few rules, mainly don’t go out in that cornfield. As Nannie tells him, if he does, he’ll wind up dead and they’ll find him all black and bloated and stinking.

So naturally, Steven ventures into the cornfield where he finds a girl lying dead. He panics, runs out of the cornfield and into the arms of his pappy whom he tells about the dead girl. There was no dead girl in those fields, Pappy tells him. And the matter is dropped.

A news report on the TV later that night about Charles Manson puts Steven in fear of hippies from California, terrified Manson will get out of jail and come directly to the farm. The next day on a trip to the store, Steven spots a VW van transporting a group of hippies from California.

Over the next few weeks, little happens until it does. Steven ventures through the corn to the abandoned amusement park on the other side of the field where he’s scared off by the squatting California hippies. Nanny and Pappy’s dogs go missing. Someone throws balls through two of the windows and harasses Nanny, Pappy and Steven one night.

We’re building up to a really decent third act with lots of terror and suspense. And then it never appears. The last 17 minutes have a little action, breaking windows, rattling doors, giggles outside the house, Pappy shooting his rifle into the darkness, and even a car chase into the corn, but when it comes down to it, down to that moment where all this tension we’ve been building up to, the big awesome scene that ties all this stuff together…we get jack. And I mean absolutely jack.

The resolution to everything that’s come before is glossed over in 30 seconds and it completely negates everything that came before. YAWN!

The Fields was written by first-time screenwriter Harrison Smith, who would go on to write such never-heard-of-its like Camp Dread and Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard. His ear for dialogue is pretty sharp, especially where the grandparents were concerned. I saw SO much of my own grandparents in Nanny and Pappy it was like I was there again, laying on the floor in the living room of their house watching Tarzan movies on the weekend again.

Directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni build a lot of suspense with very little effort it seems, basing the entire movie on the fears of a little 8-year-old kid, and making even the most innocuous objects seem sinister. Really, this should have been a home run of a horror movie. But the writer and the directors, something just fell apart there toward the end, and I don’t mean it dropped the ball, I mean it pulled a linchpin and the entire structure just caved right the hell in. You could see the plume of dust thrown up by the collapse of this plot for miles around.

We start with a dead girl in a field, then she’s never mentioned again until the end of the movie, which takes place three weeks later. For three weeks this kid knew that dead girl was there but all it took was a “There’s no dead girl” from Pappy to make him forget all about it? I was that age once, and I’m telling you something like that doesn’t just get swept under the rug. I find a dead girl in a field, I’m not gonna stop pestering my grandparents until SOMEONE takes a look. That was the first chink in the armor of this movie.

There’s another scene later on where Pappy is outside looking around because they’ve heard some noises. We see a shot of Steven lying awake in bed and we pan down to see a man dressed in a red coat and top hat is under his bed. How the hell did he get there? He plucks one of the springs under Steven’s bed, which makes a pretty loud noise, but Steven, a kid who jumps at the lightest creak, doesn’t freak out?

It seemed to me the gist of the underlying theme was daddy issues, as Steven is sent to his grandparents when his parents fight (actually it was because his dad put a gun in his mother’s face, which makes you think his dad is to blame for everything, only to find out later his mother is a useless drunk who spends all her time with her best friend at the bar, her best friend who has no love for Steven’s dad and who apparently does everything she can to get him worked up, so whose REALLY the one at fault here?), then we learn that, long ago, Pappy sent Steven’s dad to live with his aunt for some unknown problem between the two of them. All this family drama feels like it should have been important to the plot, because so much time is spent on it, but in the end, the things going on at the farm late at night, they have nothing at all to do with anything else, and this family drama feels tacked on for some reason.

At 98 minutes, a WHOLE lot of extraneous stuff could have been cut from this movie, made tighter, and resulted in a much shorter version of the same story. I’m not saying it would have been better; it still would have all ended in the same pointless third act, but at least I wouldn’t have wasted so much time going nowhere.

There were a few bright spots, though. Cloris Leachman stole every scene, playing her part to a T. Granted, that part was “wacky grandmother”, which is probably less acting on her part and more just getting her lines right and hitting her mark. Either way, she was great here. Bev Appleton was another bright spot, sharing obvious affection with his grandson, letting his inner child out to get the kid engaged, but flipping that protective switch and holding down the fort when necessary. Together they feel like the grandparents we all had and they do a great job of it.

Joshua Ormand carried most of the movie himself, and he did a passable job, considering he had to do little besides look terrified or ask a million questions. He reminded me a lot of the kid from Bad Santa, only less annoying.

I just felt the whole movie was very formless. Sure, these things happened, and there was a small amount of excitement at the end, but none of it ever amounted to a STORY. And the story is the most important thing.

I hoped for the best with this one, as I always do, and when the dead girl showed up in the field, those hopes rose. Unfortunately, every single thing after that just went further and further downhill. The Fields wasn’t just boring, it was totally uneventful.

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