The Fields is one of very few horrors to successfully put a child in the lead character position and pull it off. Part of this comes down to B.Harrison Smith’s script, but for the most part it’s down to Joshua Ormond’s muted performance as Steven, a kid who, rather than being mouthy, irritating, cocky, inhumanly lucky etc, is more acceptable as a guide due to his shy innocence and fallibility. Through his eyes we explore a Pennsylvania farm in 1973: a rustic and sometimes cruel looking place where hippies wash up on the roads on their travels from California, and little out of the ordinary seems to go on.
The story follows Steven as he goes to live with his grandparents after he witnesses his troubled father(Faust Checho) pull a gun on his alcoholic mother (Tara Reid). On the way to his grandparent’s Steven hears about Charles Manson’s possible parole and begins to worry the madman could come after him next. When he arrives his grandparents (Cloris Leachman and Bev Appleton) warn him above all to stay out of the corn fields, but over time, his curiosity gets the better of him and he delves into a world full of monsters and shadows.
You never really know what is happening for real when there’s so much going on to set off Steven’s young and imaginative mind: his mother explains what parole is after he hears about Manson’s crimes, his grandparent’s sinister jokes seem to stick with him, his father pulls a gun on his mother in front of him, and Pennsylvania circa 1973 looks like a breeding ground for nightmares. Thankfully, the tensions successfully grow and grow until they break the wall between Steven and his family, becoming louder, more public, and way more unsettling by the finale.
The Fields also gets brownie points for impressive cinematography that helps to make Steven’s world all the more involving. When everything seems to be going well the skies are blue and the corn is lush and beautiful, giving the boy the escape he needs. Small moments of happiness are then overshadowed by ominous signs and the world goes all grey sinister skies and scraggly decrepit fields. It’s a basic device but an effective one.
The climax of the film abandons subtlety and all-out assaults the audience in a taught and nerve-wracking sequence which has all the cast on top performance, especially Leachman, Appleton, and Ormand. The Fields plays out like a less bizarre version of Terry Gilliam’s Tideland, using the innocent eyes of the child to present a drama which is more unsettling due to narrative angle than genuinely horrific. It’s a brilliant idea realised by a pretty solid cast and some really sinister imagery, but lack of action and some short comings in emotional punch may leave some viewers yawning.