The Fields is one weird film. I give all credit to writer B Harrison Smith and directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni for putting this together. Everyone gets props for coming up with something as odd as a gothic suspense movie headlining Cloris Leachman and Tara Reid. The former, a name you don't often associate with genre movies, and the latter, a name that doesn't seem to have been involved in movies much at all lately. This movie however, based on actual events, is the place where subtlety and flat-out weirdness meet in a decrepit farmhouse.
When his parents can't stop pointing guns at each other in the summer of 1973, eight-year-old Steven (Joshua Ormond) finds himself living with his wacky parents in the middle of a Pennsylvania cornfield. Steven's obsessive fear of the Manson clan combines with his demented grandmother Leachman's predilection for horror movies, (and a warning not to go into the cornfield) steaming up a heady mixture of rural fear and paranoia. It sure doesn't help when a malicious group of evil hippies begins to harass the family, but it sends the movie hurtling towards a weird, multi-faceted climax that will leave you scratching your head in appreciative bemusement.
A confluence of plots - whether solidly rooted in fact, extrapolated upon, or cut from whole cloth - struggle to gel, making The Fields a fractured experience that borders on the surreal. It's not as if clocks are melting off the walls, but how do you relate a possible supernatural force in between the corn rows, with mom Tara Reid's efforts to forget her husband, and the junior Manson gang, or grandpa (Bev Appleton) and grandma's comedic, profane relationship? What's to keep little Steven from fading into the background, a mere touchstone for all this other weird stuff?
Not too much, actually, mainly due to Ormond's blank performance. He's pretty comfortable and natural, and gets his share of running and screaming time, but at other times he just looks sort of bored. Even with some nice (albeit varied) set pieces; weird assaults on the house in the night, feverish car chases, and evil hippie torment, the movie belongs to Leachman and Appleton (doing his best as the heir apparent to Peter Boyle). Leachman's not afraid to look bad, haggard from a hardscrabble life, and to act foul, coarse and funny. Her harridan has layers of concern beneath the exterior, while Appleton acts the lout, the puckish father figure who gripes about the wife, has a complex relationship with the boy, and lopes around the house in the night with a rifle.
The Fields is in a class by itself, encompassing much of the darker half of genre movies, and coming out weird and disorienting. That doesn't mean it's a great movie. It's tough at times to figure out what it all means, what's happening, and why. Great performances from Cloris Leachman and Bev Appleton hold the thing together, even as it threatens to blow apart. It's unsettling, spooky fun. Schizo-nutso fun, but fun nonetheless.