Judge Gordon Sullivan has the urge to walk in the rain after seeing this film.
The people of Perseverance are dying for a little rain.
I imagine that the untimely death of David Carradine in 2009 must have created havoc in the world of low-budget filmmaking (where Carradine was sadly confined despite the success of Kill Bill: Volume 1). To release the films that were in production before his death so soon after his demise would look callous, while waiting too long could hurt the film's chances of making money. It feels like Dark Fields (a.k.a. The Rain) might have had to contend with some of these issues. Despite a production date in 2009, the film is only now seeing release on DVD in 2011. Although it's an ambitious, imaginative project, Dark Fields hardly adds anything to Carrdine's legacy and will only be of interest to hardcore fans of low-budget horror.
Told in three interlocking narratives that jump through time, Dark Fields tells the story of the farming community of Perseverance has been afflicted with a curse, causing adults to wither up like their crops unless they get rain. The film slowly unfolds the origins of the curse and the high price the farms of Perseverance are willing to pay to keep their community alive.
I have to give Dark Fields credit for its scope. For a low-budget film to tackle an idea that involves three different narrative strands, including one old-timey setting, is an impressively ambitious project. On paper it sounds like a great idea—tracing the effects of a curse through multiple generations/characters rather than relegating the origins of the problem to a simple flashback. The film is also firmly in the horror tradition, but also works in some questions of family dynamics and community relations, in addition to providing a compelling villain in the top hat-clad figure.
The problem is that the ambition is what ultimately brings down the film. Because of the low budget, the film doesn't have the visual chops to effectively separate the different eras visually. It took me most of the film to realize that the film was telling three different stories in three different eras—the costumes and look of the film where such that I just though everyone was supposed to give a kind of a timeless rural feel rather than an explicit view of the 1800s, 1950s, and the present day. This made the film very, very confusing and difficult to get invested in. The ambition of the film also contributed to the almost two-hour running time, which is a bit long for any film to maintain a tense, dark atmosphere. Despite the longer running time, the film's sweep causes some of the details to be swept under the rug. It's never made explicitly clear what happens to Perseverance if the sacrifices aren't carried out appropriately, and the top hat villain could use some extra screen time. There's talk in the extras of a trilogy, and the extra space would have been appropriate to get all of the little details that writer/director Douglas Schulze obviously had in mind.
Despite my problems with the film, Dark Fields gets a strong DVD presentation. The anamorphic transfer looks good for a low-budget film. Detail isn't as strong as I'd like, but colors appear to be reproduced appropriately and there aren't any significant compression problems of note. The audio track does a fine job of balancing the film's audio and atmospheric effects.
The extras start with a commentary by director Doug Schulze. He's a relatively engaging speaker, and even though he spends a little too much time explaining what's going on (which might actually be a good thing, considering how confused I was during my first viewing), he also shares a lot of behind-the-scenes info as well. Next up is about 15 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, which also includes some comments from the director as well. This leads into a deleted scene that runs a couple minutes long and adds a gruesome touch to the film. Finally, we get an animated storyboard and the film's trailer to round out the extras.
In the film's defense, everyone involved is committed to making it work. Schulz gets strong performances from Dee Wallace Stone and David Carradine, and the rest of the cast generally lives up to their examples. On a technical level, both behind and in front of the camera, Dark Fields is better than average. I only wish their reach hadn't exceeded their grasp.
Dark Fields is an ambitious indie horror film, and certainly worth a rental for fans of Dee Wallace Stone or the late David Carradine. Others will probably find less to love, but nothing about Dark Fields is so bad that it should be avoided completely.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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