When I see a film with a press release which promises 'American Gothic', then I'm immediately intrigued. Something about the idea – of unknown forces at work in a relatively-young nation – always leads to a quality of mood and an aesthetic which I adore. So – how does The Fields (2011) hold up as an example of same?
Firstly, the aesthetics here are simply spot on. This is a film which knows how to develop sweeping long shots while providing a sense of depth and darkness in even the most balmy, sunny scenes. Taking us back to the 1970s, The Fields offers a wealth of brooding Americana as our story unfolds, and throughout is very beautiful to look at. It's an atmospheric yarn, too. A little boy, Stephen, is sent to live at his grandparents' house while his parents work through their ongoing marital problems. As he and his mother drive over there, the car radio mentions the then-ongoing Manson family trial – which seems to capture Stephen's imagination. Is his interest in Charlie Manson making his imagination run riot? His grandparents think so, and refuse to believe his tall tales about finding a dead body in the ominous cornfields surrounding their house, and then, he seems to be overlaying his knowledge of the Manson family on people he meets – the hippies living out of their camper van nearby, and Eugene, the Manson-a-like who works at the dairy farm. Nevertheless, strange things seem to be going on in the vicinity of the house. Even the adults have to admit as much. But what is going on? Pranksters? - Hippies playing copycat in the wake of the Manson case? Some supernatural evil?
Prepare to wonder, and wait, because this is not a movie which is willing to spoon-feed you easy answers, or give you one correct reply to your questions. The Fields is an exercise in mood – not jumpy scares. If you like your horror imbued with a quiet sense of creeping dread, then this may well be the film for you. If you grow impatient for plot exposition, then this will not be; personally, I really enjoyed it. Quietly nightmarish, it has the courage to move at a slow, steady pace, and managed to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end a few times through its course.
Key to the success of The Fields are the strong, yet understated performances by the cast, and the film is to be applauded for centring the plot around a child (Joshua Ormond) who is not sickly-sweet and does not overact, and can therefore gain our sympathy/maintain our interest. A lot of the initial parental strife is experienced from a child's point of view, which makes it easy to sympathise with this little boy. The child's-eye view of the world is also compelling here because it allows us to see, perhaps to remember, how adults seem to children. The adults here are often dismissive, which makes them untrustworthy, or they seem to know more than they'll tell, and this idea of being the only one not being told what is going on makes Stephen seem vulnerable. It's an effect bolstered by those long camera shots – which show Stephen dwarfed by the surrounding landscapes, and definitely by the imposing fields of corn – and a relentless, brooding score. Still, not all the child-adult relationships here are negative, although duplicity is a theme which continues to come up. Stephen's relationship with his grandparents is generally a good one. Family life is believable, and touches of humour help to balance out the often morbid conversations to be had at the dinner table. This adds substance to the film, and you're never left feeling that all you have are stooges there for frightening things to happen to.
...and The Fields is unsettling, even frightening, in places. Its otherworldly feel ensures that unease permeates this film throughout. Almost because it refuses to sum everything up unequivocally and neatly, it succeeds as a creepy horror film. Not quite like anything else I've seen, I would recommend this for its Americana, ambience and slow-burn approach.
Shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio with a glossy high colour palate and a crisp, clear audio track, the film looks and sounds great. Although my screener didn't have any extras, the press release promises a making of documentary, behind the scenes featurettes, outtakes featuring esteemed star Cloris Leachman, and footage from the world première.
Review by Keri O’Shea
|Released by Breaking Glass Pictures|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|