How much can you expect from a horror film that sports Tara Reid and Cloris Leachman as its two leads? If very little, than you probably won't be disappointed by THE FIELDS, the new film from Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni (THE 4TH DIMENSION). The fact it's a direct-to-disc release, without a wide distribution, should not only give you an idea of the quality of the film, but also the level of faith any distributor has in getting the masses to see it...and more importantly, like it. And while I personally enjoyed a scene or two, I can't conscionably recommend anyone seek out this fairly ponderous and rote quasi-CHILDREN OF THE CORN entry. I just can't.
Here's the setup. We meet Steven (Joshua Ormond), a cherubic young lad who gets sent to live with his grandma (Leachman) and grandpa (Bev Appleton) in their rustic Pennsylvania field-house. It's 1973, a time when violence has seeped into the mainstream media (Vietnam, etc). The Charles Manson case in particular looms large on the mind of Steven, who, while knowing full well Manson is incarcerated in California, stills feels threatened by his potential presence. Meanwhile, Steven's parents (Tara Reid and Faust Checho) are working through their own domestic strife, where violence too plays a part. With all of this consternation, it doesn't take long before a mysterious force begins terrorizing the family from the giant cornfield surrounding the property.
The most frustrating thing I found about THE FIELDS is that it's technical merits are sullied by everything else. It's a well shot film, for the most part beautifully composed by DP Daniel Watchulonis. That the story and at times the acting doesn't measure up to the glossy production value, that's wholly irksome. For low budget horror to work, it's usually the other way around...low production values saved by serviceable acting and momentous story. Not so for THE FIELDS, which for the most part lacks momentum altogether. There are long stretches of the film where nothing at all happens, just Steven walking around the fields, interacting with very little, discovering even less. Random montages seem forced to stretch out a runtime, a ploy that usually makes me tune out once instantly recognizing. I was expecting to see a horror film, instead I got a spate of fart jokes with Cloris Leachman at the butt (pun disgustingly intended). The laughable rancor Leachman spews forth is so over the top I thought I was watching Skip Bayless on ESPN First Take (a stunning similarity in looks btw).
The positives to be found in THE FIELDS, while scant, all but involve Joshua Ormond (Steven). As a young boy, he delivers a pretty solid performance. I believed what he was selling, be it the numbness parental turmoil can yield, or the sheer terror of home invading forces. I'd argue he gives the most reserved, natural performance of all. There's one scene in particular when Steven wanders his way into an abandoned funhouse that looms on the other side of the cornfield. It's a well made scene, with moody atmosphere and chilly sound work. I also dug Ormond in the scene, as he conveyed a palpable sense of dread the rest of the film sorely lacked. There's also a late home invasion scene I found somewhat compelling, the interplay between Steven and his grandparents while accosted being the key.To those wondering why I've yet to mention Tara Reid. No need. The girl has about three scenes in total, and she's none too impressive in any of them. In fact, soap opera histrionics is the way she plays her character, so much so that all you can focus on is Tara Reid trying to act as opposed to actually listening and believing what her character says. She gets top billing, but for no good reason. Cloris Leachman, as reduced to flatulent punch-lines as she is, deserves greater plaudits. But if top billing were awarded to the top performer, why not give the kid an above the line credit. After-all, he carries every watchable facet of the film.
At the end of the day, THE FIELDS is at times a meandering mess. The thrills and chills are too sparse to warrant the slogging mid-section, and outside the little boy, there aren't many characters to root for to begin with. The acting doesn't help, save for the Ormond and Appleton, and even then, Ormond is too muted, Appleton too underutilized, and the result is none too memorable. A few decent scenes aside, I wouldn't give THE FIELDS a mow anytime soon.