Monday, July 1, 2013

Kid of the Corn

Any film that elicits wildly diverse opinions from blog sources I respect is always worth a weigh-in. Considering I’ve heard the very best and very worst of Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni’s The Fields AND it landed on Instant Watch, here we go.

Quick Plot: It’s tough being Steven, aka a 10 or so year old kid with a recently returned Vietnam veteran dad that has anger issues and an alcoholic mom played by Tara Reid in a bad wig. As his parents attempt to figure out their relationship, Steven is sent to leave with grandparents on a farm surrounded by ominous cornfields that just might house a dead body or two.

Also, it’s 1973 and a good chunk of the nation is busy being terrified of dirty hippies and Charles Manson. 

It’s easy to see why someone would despise The Fields. Let’s take a look at the synopsis: 

Based on chilling real-life incidents that occurred in Pennsylvania in 1973, this gripping horror film tells the tale of a young boy and his family whose ancestral farm has been mysteriously possessed by an evil, unfathomable presence.”

An ‘evil, unfathomable presence’ might lead you to picture, I don’t know, something like this:

Or this?

According to the Internet, also this:

But Google Image Search be damned, The Fields has other ideas. Less about something to be afraid of than about fear itself, you can’t quite fault an angry audience for feeling hoodwinked. With a few eerie dream sequences and constant threats of home invasions, The Fields feels as though it’s building up to a grand finale. Accept this mild spoiler: 

There isn’t much of one. 

It’s not that nothing happens in The Fields. It’s more that it’s less about WHAT happens than the paranoia in the time surrounding it. Mattera and Mazzoni spend a fair amount of time developing a sense of foreboding, dropping in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-worthy family visit to Granny’s disabled sister’s family complete with People Under the Stairs-y teens that play with chickens in a way that doesn’t seem ready for a kids’ morning TV show. Everywhere Steven seems to turn, SOMETHING is planting a quiet threat, be it the maze of cornstalks designed to shield some sort of menace or the ubiquitous overgrown flower children that sing nonsense songs everywhere in town.

Working with a script from first timer Harrison Smith, The Fields is a very different kind of horror film. The monster isn’t REALLY the murderous gang of hippies that might be leaving corpses behind the rows; it’s the general unease growing not just in big cities or LA garden parties but also in the innocence of a family farm. It’s a subtle theme, and the filmmaking team displays great skill at conveying it. Sure, guiding a pro like Leachman can’t be too hard, but observe how natural most of the family scenes are, with characters munching on cigarettes while interrupting familiar stories. The longer I sit back from this film, the more impressive it seems.

High Points
Leachman. Seriously, is it ever anything else?

Low Points
I’d love to NOT pin every low point in a Tara Reid movie on Tara Reid, but even with limited screentime, it’s simply impossible

Lessons Learned
Never accept peanut butter on a cracker without first inspecting the jar

Walking through cornfields alone might leave you dead and/or swollen and/or black and/or terrible

No grandma is cooler than Cloris Leachman. Actually, no living human being is cooler than Cloris Leachman

If you approach The Fields knowing that it’s NOT a bloodbath, I think you might find something unusually haunting. The film is far from perfect, but it’s a certain type of unique accomplishment that makes me look forward to what this filmmaking team might do next. 

Allow me to add: what kept The Fields on my radar was James Gracey’s wonderfully thoughtful review. For further reading, head on over here  to see what I mean.


  1. Sounds good to me.
    Your description has me thinking of The Reflecting Skin, which I love.

  2. I don't know The Reflecting Skin!
    Now I'll have to check it out.

  3. Another one for my list - thanks!

    I agree, you really should check out The Reflecting Skin. It's a "nightmarish scenario as interpreted by a child" movie, and it has a great, somewhat queasy sense of humour.

  4. Adding The Reflecting Skin to the list of movies I keep to add to my queue (it's a multi-step process). I'm VERY intrigued!

  5. I finally got around to watching this and quite enjoyed it, thanks for pointing it out!
    Cloris Leachman really made the movie by being just the right mix of funny and odd... keeping things slightly off level.

  6. Glad you dug it!

    Isn't she the best?

  7. I'm so glad you dug this, Emily. I may very well watch it again this weekend - because as you said, the more you think on it, the more impressive it seems. I think it'll only delight more with multiple viewings. Thanks also for the shout out. I hope you're well. :)

  8. Your review really stayed with me. I think it remains the only other positive writeup I heard about this one, so REPRESENT YO!

  9. I'm going to have to check this one out. I generally find that I enjoy the horror movies that receive mixed reviews in a way that you describe. A good example is the one-worded 'YellowBrickRoad', which I know both you and I enjoyed but so many people absolutely hated!

  10. We are our own secret club of positivity!