Judge Gordon Sullivan once was hit in the face with an American pie.
Our review of The Fields, published April 27th, 2012, is also available.
Based on actual events…
One of the techniques writers have at their disposal is the blending of history and fiction. Setting a fictional story during a real event can lend emotional weight to the story and give it some resonance with little effort on the part of the writer. This seems a surprisingly underutilized technique in the realm of horror films. Imagine a horror flick set during the real panic over Orson Welles Mercury Theater "War of the Worlds" broadcast, or set during the summer of 1969 in those tense moments before Armstrong was revealed to have made a safe landing. If you stop and think for a second, I bet you could come up with half a dozen tense moments in US history alone that would make the perfect backdrop for a horror story. One of them might be the tension surrounding the Manson family's Tate/LaBianca murders, and it's this historical moment that The Fields hopes to use to generate some dread. It's a good idea, but the plot is sunk by too much atmosphere and not enough story.
It's 1973, and Bonnie (Tara Reid, American Pie) and Charlie (Brian Anthony Wilson, Limitless) are always fighting. In fact, it gets so bad that Charlie pulls a gun on Bonnie in front of their son Steven. The pair decides to pack him off to his grandparents' (Cloris Leachman and Bev Appleton) house, but on the way, young Steven hears a story about the Manson family. Suddenly, everything around his grandparents' country home is menacing.
Take a moment to marvel: Cloris Bloody Leachman and Tara Reid have starred together in a low-budget horror film. Let that roll around in your brain for a second. They both starred in some of the greatest coming-of-age teen pictures of their day (Leachman in The Last Picture Show, though she wasn't a teen then, and Reid in American Pie). Now, you can see them in a direct-to-home-video horror flick, The Fields (Blu-ray).
To be honest, the actors are the main draw to this particular slice of indie horror. Tara Reid (and the equally excellent Brian Anthony Wilson) really only show up in the beginning to give Steven and excuse to head to the countryside. Cloris Leachman then takes over as the main adult representative (with the aid of Bev Appleton). However, the standout in the cast is young actor Josh Ormond. He gives sympathetic performance as a young boy whose life has been turned upside down by his parents and who isn't as safe as he'd like to be with his grandparents. For all the difficulties in his life, he still has a streak of curiosity and imagination that makes his character both likeable and infuriating (because, really, it's hard to encourage a young kid to wander in the countryside when we think there's danger lurking).
The Fields (Blu-ray) is surprisingly strong for an indie horror. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is pretty solid of a flick of this budget. Some of the darker scenes are a bit too dark, and black levels can fluctuate a bit, but during brighter scenes, the detail is impressive. Color saturation seems to support the filmmakers' intentions. It's not a knockout transfer, but it doesn't distract from the feature, either. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similarly effective at dealing with the source. We get clear dialogue from the center channel, with a bit of atmospherics pushed to the surrounds.
Extras start with a behind-the-scenes featurette that gives us a 20-minute peek into the making of the feature. Then, another featurette goes over some of the real-life inspirations for the film, including the real locations and the basis for Steven's grandparents. Then we get a pair of gag reels, one for the general cast, and a shorter one for Cloris Leachman. There is also a photo gallery and the film's trailer.
Though it's appropriate to praise the actors, the performances aren't award-worthy, largely because The Fields doesn't have much of a story. Steven sees some creepy stuff, and there are a few jump scares, but there's no real buildup to anything that would make sitting through the rest of the story truly pay off. It's not awful, but the ending is anti-climactic. The promise of setting a film during the Manson paranoia doesn't get delivered, and many viewers will be more disappointed, precisely because the premise raises our hopes.
The Fields is a weird movie. With good actors and an interesting premise, it should be a knockout, but a lack of payoff keeps it from truly effective. It's worth watching for fans of the stars, and the quality of this Blu-ray makes it easy to recommend as a rental for the curious.
Though it doesn't live up to its premise, The Fields is not guilty.
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