I absolutely love when a film's premise has hooks, enticing the watchers and bringing us deeper into the world as it's unspooling. Everything I'd read on The Fields had me very much looking forward to checking it out. It's a period piece (cool!), set in rural Pennsylvania (hey, that's where I'm from!) during the summer of '73. It purports to be based on true events in the aftermath of the Manson family murders. Eight year old Steven is sent to stay on a farm with his ornery, foul mouthed grandmother and her long suffering husband whilst his parents try to work through marrital issues (adultery and gun brandishing, ya know normal husband-wife stuff). We're told that Grandmom's penchant for watching late night horror movies (sweet!) is influencing Steven's world view and causing him to seek out the darkness hidden among the surrounding corn fields.
And so, armed with what seems like a bomb proof premise, The Fields then proceeds to stumble and fall right out of the gate. It's not just a pacing problem but more that plot threads seem to build to nothing. This goes doubly for suspense; there simply is very little unless you're terrified of corn. There's some promise of horrors to come when Steven stumbles across an abandoned amusement park (apparently the oldest in America - Bushkill Amusement Park) inhabited by squatting hippies. But the horror never arrives, this plot thread is quickly abandoned too. There's some nonsense about inbred cousins who kill chickens, aunts who are so rural that you can't even tell what they're mumbling and some out of place race relations exposition, all of which just seem to add an ackward flair that had me cringing.
Still, films can get a lot of mileage on charismatic characters. Unfortunately, the most likable character, Charlie, is hardly in the film at all. Joshua Ormond, who plays Steven, puts in an admirable performance and could have a bright career in his future but he's playing a young boy and so to shoulder him with carrying the film without a likable supporting cast is folly. Tara Ried, who is given top billing here, book ends the film appearing in the beginning and ending only.
Not all was disappointment and sad panda faces though- the cinematography was excellent, expertly canvassing ominous sky-scapes and rickety farm structures. It really set the table for what could have been a slow burning, tension filled horror flick. Sadly there was no meal forthcoming. The Fields ends up being a lesson in unfulfilled promise. At least the trailer is kind of spine-tingly.