Steven is a young boy who’s sent to live with his grandmother and grandfather in the country while his mother and father work through their marital troubles. Though his grandparents warn him to stay away from the corn stalks near their house, Steven can’t help but be drawn into the fields. At the same time, news reports of the murderous Manson Family horrify the nation. Then, strange things start happening: noises come from the fields at night and the family dogs disappear. Gradually, the happenings turn more horrifying, and Steven soon finds himself in the midst of a real life nightmare.
Often times, movies – especially in the horror genre – that boast about being based on actual events stretch the truth in favor of a more interesting story. In the case of The Fields, however, I believe that it is largely accurate. Why? Well, not much happens in the movie.
“Uninteresting” is the best word to describe The Fields. Aside from the fact that it’s based on a true story, the movie’s only selling point is that it stars Academy Award winner Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein) and Tara Reid (American Pie). Oh, and horror fans will get a kick out of knowing that Halloween III director Tommy Lee Wallace has an associate producer credit.
The film takes place in the early 1970s, while the nation is still in shock from the heinous acts of Charles Manson and his legion of followers. Manson’s death sentence has been reduced to life in prison without parole, and people continue to live in fear.
A young boy, Steven (Joshua Ormond), had plenty to worry about before learning of Manson’s reign of terror via radio broadcast. His parents are having marital troubles since his father (Faust Checho) held a gun to mother’s (Reid) head. While they attempt to work things out, Steven goes to stay with his grandparents (Leachman and Bev Appleton).
Things aren’t much better there. There’s a cornfield behind the house about which Steven is constantly warned but remains compelled to explore regardless. He discovers the dead body of a girl in the middle of the field. It seems like this should be a major plot point in the film, but it’s merely the first of many missed opportunities.
An unseen presence, which may or may not be related to the foreboding cornfield, later harasses the grandparents. First, their dogs go missing with only their collars left behind. Then all of their windows are broken. Finally, their house is attacked in the middle of the night. Yet, somehow, nothing really comes of it.
The Fields has a fair share of moments that lend themselves to an ominous tone. Among them are the dizzying isolation of the cornfield, an abandoned amusement park, a father’s secret past and a deformed extended family. However, these elements go underutilized at best and completely unexplained at worst, thus squandering any sense of atmosphere.
It’s amazing that someone with such a legacy as Leachman would sign on for such a lackluster picture. Expectedly, she is the highlight of the film as the foul-mouthed Gladys. She and Appleton, as her husband, have some great back-and-forth grandparent banter.
Reid phones in her performance; the only noteworthy aspect is that she brandishes a brunette wig. Leachman and Reid are top billed, naturally, but Ormond is really the star. He’s merely okay as far as child actors go, perpetuated by the fact that the audience has no reason to care for him.
With two directors – Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni – calling the shots, one would think that the film would have some semblance of, you know, direction. But they’re not really to blame. They worked with what they had: an unfocused script by first time writer (go figure) Harrison Smith.
Some may see The Fields as a suspenseful, slow burning thriller. Most, however, are likely to be bored by the haphazard plot, half-baked ideas and lack of payoff. It is proof that no amount of star power can save a bad script.
The Fields (2011)