Independent Film Review: The Fields (2011)

Expressway Productions Inc. Breaking Glass Pictures
Runtime: 100 minutes
Rated: No MPAA Rating
Directors: Tom Mattera, David Mazzoni
Starring: Tara Reid, Joshua Ormond, Cloris Leachman, Brian Anthony Wilson
Writer: Harrison Smith
Drama | Horror | Mystery | Thriller

The Fields is an independent film brought to us by directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni and is about a young boy and the cornfields on his Pennsylvania farm.

As it starts out with these cornfields and expectedly scenic shots that immediately throw us into a mood for something scary, we meet our young star “Steven” (Joshua Ormond) who looks and feels like a bushy-haired child of the early 70s. What comes to mind then is, of course, Children of the Corn. No surprise there.

Because his father “Barry” (Faust Checho) and mother “Bonnie” (Tara “American Pie” Reid) are going through a rough patch at home, it is decided that Steven should stay with “Grandpa Ray” (Tom McCarthy) and “Grandma Gladys” (Cloris Leachman) who live on a countryside farm while mom and dad work things out.

No sooner than when a young and imaginative Steven begins settling into life on the farm is he warned by his expletive-using, heavy-smoking grandmother that he is not to ever go into the cornfields because: “Jesus Christ, if you go in there, we'll never find you, and if we do, you'll be all dead and black and swollen!”

Grandma has a way with words. Those words are just not suitable for use around children. Steven is just not one of those kids who have been blessed with a good home. And this nasty, inbred, flatulence-obsessed family only makes things worse.

And what does young Steven do with the warning not to go into the cornfields? He does what every grade-schooler does and completely ignores it. On a cloudy day with plenty of wind whipping the stalks, Steven goes into the corn patch and finds a dead body, but since he's a child and this is a movie, he must simply have an overactive imagination, and so all the adults just ignore him.

Fortunately, not believing Steven advances the plot and gives us a movie, but unfortunately, this is not in any way noticeable. It takes nearly the bulk of the film to lap up what is supposed to be “based on a true story” and pass for a spine-tingling horror flick at the same time.

And in a film that involves cornfields, cloudy days, wind, lullabies, Steven's obsession with Charles Manson making parole – and going off the edge of the envelope here, some very evil hippies – we are totally on board with things somehow working out to our delight. But The Fields will have a problem delighting really anyone except its creators and hopeless indie junkies who just want an atmospheric mood-adjustor because it is an exercise in overkill that never delivers the goods.  

The Fields is stand-alone horror symbolism on display, like desktop clowns staring at kids as they sleep, scary mumbling ladies living in unsanitary conditions, degenerate people of low intelligence killing chickens in a shed, abandoned amusement parks, and (in short) way more scary material than any film could ever constructively use. And, once again, evil hippies!

The music is always more grandiose than what we are watching take place. The longer we wait for something that is scary and also meaningful to really get us grafted to what is taking place (or for just a twist to make us feel like there is really something going on), the more disappointed we are to discover a very creepy (but still pointless) plot.

And when the fat has been trimmed away and we are left with just the meat, what do we get but the suggestion that there is maybe something more than evil hippies doing more than living off the fat of the land? Not much. Evil hippies terrorizing old people and a child. That really, really fits with what hippies are known for, doesn't it? Call me hard to please, but I expected more.

In addition to the usual guck of treating the little kid in the movie like some retarded toddler, every time we get to visit the milk factory (too often), a cow “moos” to let us know we are there. And every time the old man shoots in the general direction of a perceived threat, he never seems to try to really hit something. Also, it was a pretty big clue that someone was really trying to peek into Steven's window when a freaking latter can be seen right beside his window, which remains there throughout the rest of the movie!

Steven's grandpa should have seen this
when he walked outside!

And while the film wants to be suggestive with how it handles family-related themes (like abuse and racism), it never pursues a single one or offers up anything of value that culminates in a message. Everything we are given is so laboriously weighted down with pressed-down-and-running-over details that we have no identifiable story, but the raw material for two or more stories poorly fitted into one.

A low-budget status is evident only in what needed to be cut back on or else cut out altogether, but the attempts to frighten us with on-the-surface scares are a constant and endless barrage. If you like that, you'll like this, maybe.

Our two big stars, Leachman and Reid, clearly have a leg up in the talent department on what they offer, but still have no chance to make an impression in a movie that only seems to be capable of assuring us it knows how to feel like a horror movie.

Aside from eating up the impression-making choreography and nice use of what every setting could offer, I kept thinking to myself two things while watching; one, how much more irresponsible parenting can this poor boy endure? And two, what a pity young Joshua has no understanding of the depth needed to portray a boy in fear for his life. The directors didn't understand that either. This is a problem when he has to be anything except curious and cute, but I've seen much worse.

Some films fail not because of bad acting, but because the material was bad or badly envisioned. That is the main gripe here. We never get to appreciate the great many things done very well. The long, directionless tease and short-lived thrills give this a very low payout.