DVD Review: The Fields / Cert: 15 / Director: Tom Mattera, David Mazzoni / Screenplay: Harrison Smith / Starring: Tara Reid, Cloris Leachman, Tommy Lee Wollace, Brian Anthony Wilson / Release Date: 27th August
It's 1973, and the Summer of Love is a distant memory. When Bonnie's (Reid's) ne'er-do-well husband points a shotgun to her head, she decides that it might be a good idea if she got their impressionable young son Steven (Ormond) out of the house. So she sends him to live with his grandparents Gladys (Leachman) and Hiney (Appleton) on their isolated farm. He's warned not to go into the cornfield, but can't resist and soon comes across disturbing evidence that there is something nasty lurking in its depths, something that comes out at night to spy on him.
Nor is this his only source of worry. Haunted by news reports of the Manson Family murders, Steven is petrified when some bad-mannered, thieving hippies set up camp in an abandoned amusement park nearby. And then there are Gladys' hillbilly relations, a backward bunch who amuse themselves by getting drunk and slaughtering chickens in their basement. It's unnerving to think that his father comes from the same dodgy gene pool.
This is downbeat stuff, to be sure, but presented, for the most part, with a beguilingly light touch. Cinematographer Daniel Watchulonis creates a creepy, unsettling atmosphere with eccentrically framed images of grey, lowering skies and spiky-looking heads of corn. The performances are tough and unsentimental, especially from Leachman and Appleton as Gladys and Hiney. The screenplay by Harrison Smith delivers a pair of refreshingly meaty, well-rounded roles for these senior citizen actors – she's daunting and strict but kind-hearted, he's urbane and jokey but tough and even sinister at times. Round-faced, button-eyed Joshua Ormond is very believable, too, as the sensitive, preoccupied central character. (Celebrity Big Brother alumnus Tara Reid is there strictly for poster appeal, and it's probably just as well her part isn't bigger, as there's more corn in her performance than in Hiney and Gladys' field.)
In the last reel, directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni up the pace, but the thriller element of the story never really adds up to much, and it's a shame that they didn't jettison it altogether in favour of a more naturalistic denouement. Although it's being marketed as a horror film, The Fields is better regarded as a leisurely, slightly morbid mood piece and as a worm's-eye-view evocation of an era. If you're after thrills, chills and heart-pounding action, then look elsewhere, but if you like the sound of a leftfield coming of age story, modest in scope but quietly intense, then by all means give this very decent little movie a go.