As is often the case with genre films, the devil is in the details. And while I'm pretty sure some people will consider the latest film of director duo Mattera and Mazzoni a downright bore, there is no bone in my body that doubts this is going to be one of my personal (pure genre film) highlights of 2012. A true gem hidden amongst a haystack of wannabes and cheap efforts, so make sure you give it a chance when you happen upon it.
Some genre films are just that, others manage to lift themselves above the limitations of a genre and become something more. The Fields belongs in the latter category, but it gets there in a very peculiar and original way. It's really hard to pinpoint where exactly the film differs from its peer, at the same time the film doesn't feel anything like a regular genre film. All the cliches are there, but in such a way that they still manage to come off as fresh and surprising.
The Fields fits neatly into the horror sub genre that Stephen King almost single-handedly created when he wrote his little short story Children of the Corn. It relies on the maze-like, impenetrable powers that corn fields hold and the unseen mysteries that lay beyond the first few rows of crops, mere fleeting shadows for those who are outside the field. The Fields is really just that, but Mattera and Mazzoni found a great way to inject some life in this tired and often underdeveloped sub genre.
When Steven's parents get into a fight, things get really out of hand and Steven ends up with his grandparents while his parents try to figure out what to do with their marriage. His grandparents live in a rather secluded area though, and their estate is surrounded by ominous corn fields. Steven is forbidden to enter the fields, but as young boys often do he ignores their advice and ventures in anyway. There he discovers a corpse, though nobody seems to believe him.
Even though the film bathes in a grim, gritty 70s-like visual atmosphere, the camera work, editing and coloring stem clearly from a more modern era. The look definitely succeeds in evoking a classical atmosphere, but not at the cost of technical inefficiencies. There are some very cool shots and camera angles to be admired while the camera pans around the fields and the grandparent's estate in very definite, controlled swoops.
True star of the show is the soundtrack though. There is quite a lot of music, and while a lot of it refrains from directly dictating the film's atmosphere, it's clearly there to influence the underlying mood of each scene. You'll find plenty of effective ambient music around, swaying between chill and haunting, often giving a new dimension to a certain scene or shot. Whenever the soundtrack ups the pace it immediately makes for more tension, resulting in some very fine moments of unease. While subtle at times, the soundtrack is probably the prime reason why this films ends up being more than just another genre film.
The acting too is surprisingly strong. Joshua Ormond does a great job as Steven, especially for a kid that young. The grandparents of Steven are superb too. At times they don't even feel like actors, but it's as if Materra and Mazzoni smuggled in some real, foul-mouthed old people who carry the scars of life on their body. If you take a closer look at the poster, Tara Reid's name might ring a bell. Once the star of American Pie, she holds a supportive role as Steven's mom. I guess she was mostly there to have a well-known name on the poster, but aside from that she does a pretty decent job.
The horror-elements in The Fields are mostly dictated by the soundtrack and through a couple of very simple yet effective moments. Don't expect big scares or high octane tension, it's the simple things that matter here. Little gestures or sounds that indicate something or someone is watching. Or scenes that seem to suggest the field itself is a living, breathing entity. If you expect anything more (or something different), you'll probably leave quite disappointed.
The finale wraps everything up, leaving very little unexplained. I would've preferred a more open ending, especially because the level of mystery is pretty high to begin with and revealing the true nature of the events does take away a little from the mystery in the film (it's like explaining a great magic trick, the second time around you'll know what to look for). That said, the film itself is strong enough as to not to be spoiled by the ending. The Fields is a very nice surprise, a 100% genre film that twists itself into a more original and impressive film than its genre would normally allow it to be. Materra and Mazzoni do an awesome job building up the atmosphere of the film and accomplish a lot with very little. The fields is prime genre film making and a good recommendation for everyone with more than a passing interest in the genre.