AVAILABLE ON DVD: 11th March
RUNNING TIME: 96 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A man wakes up alone in a middle of a wilderness with no recollection of the past seven days. He is Matt Sadler, and this is happened to him several times before. Finding his way home he discovers that the police are suspicious of his repeated disappearances, his wife thinks he is doing something wrong, and he is plagued by terrifying nightmares when he closes his eyes. When his wife leaves for work, he visits his mistress, seemingly the reason his wife was angry, but she tells him she is ending their relationship. Matt retraces his steps to uncover his missing actions during the blackouts, his search leads him out of the city and in to the countryside, to a remote farm owned by loner Calham. The cold farmer is suspicious of Matt but instantly sparks a dark sense of déjà vu in his visitor..
It’s a pretty good time for indie horror in the UK at the moment, and the latest impressive directorial debut is this movie from Leigh Dovey, who has had to wait four years for his film to get a DVD release. The Fallow Field is certainly unusual, and may disappoint if you expect a chiller along the lines of your average horror movie that you get out at the moment. It’s grim and has its blood and scares alright, but it’s also a film that defiantly refuses to become what you think it is going to be and subverts expectations throughout. It’s quite a slow moving piece, relying much on chat between the two protagonists, but has the most un-nerving atmosphere I’ve experienced in a film since the stunning Kill List. The Fallow Field is not up to the standard of that film, but it is another disturbing ride into the heart of darkness that still manages to be as English as bad weather and a nice cup of tea.
The Fallow Field is billed as Memento meets Wolf Creek set against the backdrop of English harvest time, and I guess if you want to compare it other flicks than it’s not a bad description, though it really has a peculiar flavour all its own. As I watched, I also detected faint echoes of The Cottage and Children Of The Corn, though I’m not really giving anything away by saying this, and I doubt you’ll be able to predict much of what takes place even if you have the afore-mentioned films in mind. In fact, this really is one of those movies that works better the less you know, so I’m only going to mention elements of the story that occur in the first half and be infuriatingly vague about what follows. I think you’ll probably thank me for doing this once you have seen the film, though I am going to quote Wikipedia:
Fallow is the stage of crop rotation in which the land is deliberately not used to raise a crop. Ground may be fallowed as part of a larger crop rotation plan or as a method to conserve moisture as in the summer fallow technique used in dry-land farming.
This may or may not tell you what the film is about.
We begin with some shots of the countryside that are beautiful and yet filled with foreboding, in fact I must say right here that this movie is stunningly photographed throughout by Nick Kindon, often making superb use of darkness with just one or two lighter elements. This really does at times make the film look more expensive than it is. For the first third, we follow a kind of mystery as Matt tries to find out why he keeps on waking up in the middle of a field with no memory. I initially wondered if his mistress had something to do with it, but it was just a red herring, though I suppose it helps build the picture of a somewhat normal guy who can’t quite do the right thing for anyone. He finds himself in the countryside, and here we have a scene of absolutely amazing suspense as he slowly walks onto a farm. The camera often rocks ever so slightly, something I noticed because I watch too many films, but which many people may not do, yet still feel very uneasy. This is accompanied by rather scary music [or is it sound effects? It’s hard to tell] that sounds positively otherworldly, as if aliens are somehow involved in all this.
Well, there’s no aliens, but the supernatural certainly becomes a part of the story, though not for a while. The tension is stretched out to breaking point after Matt had met Calham, the farmer who straightaway seems to know more than he is letting on, while Matt appears to be recalling more and more. The talk goes on and on, the dialogue maybe not as good as all that but extremely well delivered by virtual newcomers Steve Garry and Michael Dacre, the latter especially good as the archetypal farmer with something to hide. We have another superb use of sound where Calham moves in to attack Matt and the noise of a kettle boiling becomes defining, after which The Fallow Field seems to flirt with ‘torture porn’ for a bit, but never really going ‘all the way’. Scenes are often uncomfortably drawn out though most of the blood and guts is either off-screen or just shown simply, and far more mileage is achieved by the claustrophobic interiors and the skilful lighting that often keeps Calham shrouded in darkness. I guess if you’re starting to expect a Saw variant you’ll be disappointed, but then the film becomes something else again and I don’t want to say much more!
What transpires is almost a two-hander between the sadistic farmer and his prisoner, though that is certainly not to say nothing happens. The pace is indeed leisurely until a hair-raising climax but the surprises mount up, as do the scares with one of the most memorable scenes involving earth and a hand since Any Irving had that nightmare back in 1976. The themes explored include personal responsibility, revenge, nature and regeneration, while at times the film really does make you wonder what you might do in the circumstances depicted. As for our crazy farmer, you may well end up feeling sympathy for him. He becomes a really interesting character, someone who doesn’t seem to be bothered about causing immense suffering to others but actually ends up seeming more a person who’s just wrongheaded and just deals with a terrible personal tragedy in the wrong way. I would have liked to have learnt more about him, in fact the whole story could have done with elaboration, and some may feel frustrated by the end, but it’s not automatically a bad thing if you’re left wanting more. In any case, I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel that expanded the concept and world of The Fallow Field, or even a more elaborate remake with greater funds.
One of this film’s greatest assets is its aural aspect. Having music blend with sound effects is nothing new these days, but it’s done so brilliantly here I have to mention it. Think about how much less effect Psycho would have had without Bernard Herrmann’s all-string score, because here Adam Ford’s eerie soundscapes, which sometimes subtly suggest rural England, and the sound design add such an immense amount to the film it wouldn’t be half the movie it is without them. Often you just hear the sound of farm machinery, and in fact I can hear it now, ringing in my ears, a testament to how well the film worked. There’s an occasional awkwardness to The Fallow Field which probably couldn’t be helped, but it’s still a fine achievement that Dovey can be immensely proud of…..though it may put you off going anywhere near a farm for good.
The R2 DVD fron Monster Pictures includes:
*Commentary with Director Leigh Dovey and Producer Colin Arnold
*The making of The Fallow Field