It’s the early 1970s, and life is pretty turbulent for young Steven (Joshua Ormond). After walking in on a fight between his mother Bonnie (Tara Reid) and father Barry (Faust Checho), whereupon Barry has Bonnie facing down the muzzle of a shotgun, Steven is taken to his grandparents’ farm to live. Grandma (Cloris Leachman) is quick with the profanity and Grandpappy Hiney (Bev Appleton) is the more laid-back sort, but both agree that Steven shouldn’t be playing in the cornfields that surround the property, lest he get lost or worse. Of course, Steven doesn’t heed their warnings and goes out to play in the fields, stumbling upon a dead body.
Chalked up to a frightened child’s imagination (though everyone is more than a little wary of the hippies that have appeared in town, thanks to the legacy of Charles Manson), everyone moves on with their lives with nary a second look for the body. All is well, right, except that now Steven is hearing voices coming from the fields, and someone has begun appearing at his window at night and harassing the old farm family.
Dave Mazzoni & Tom Mattera’s The Fields is a suspense thriller with a hint of the supernatural. From the creepy locals with that taste of inbred that has been known to sometimes fester in small towns to that faded, dusty look to the film itself, the film sells 1970s off-kilter well. And at the same time, this is the tale of a child whose family is an assortment of flawed humanity, though to varying degrees (depending on which direction on the family tree you decide to climb).
To that end, if the child actor in the film isn’t up to snuff, no amount of atmosphere and slow burn is going to make up for a lead you don’t care about. No need to worry, however, as Joshua Ormond is more than up to the challenge. He manages to hold his own with Cloris Leachman sharing the screen (playing one of the more convincingly elderly and easily unhinged roles I’ve seen in a while; that’s a compliment) and he doesn’t annoy.
Let’s face it, sometimes the child in peril is so obnoxious you could care less what happens to them. In this case, while I was less concerned about the evils in the fields and more concerned with how young Steven’s life is going to turn out when he’s got parents who are shotgun-friendly in a fight and quick to unload the kid with his grandparents in the middle of nowhere, at least Steven made me care.
And that’s where the film really finds its groove. If it were just jump-scares and Children of the Corn homagery, it’d be easy to dismiss it as derivative and forgettable. By focusing on the characters in Steven’s life, and the historical context of that time in history, rather than spookfesting the Hell out of matters, you’re left with something more than a horror film. This is American gothic suspense at its subtle best, and you could do far worse than to get caught up in The Fields.
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