Studio: Viva Pictures
Director: Daniel B. Iske
Writer: Scott Coleman
Producer: Wendy Iske, Ehren Parks
Stars: Mark Booker, Melanie Gillis, Matt Harwell, Chelsie Hartness, Sarah Wald, Michelle Schrage, Matt Tatroe, Bill Wassem
Seven college students on a research expedition at a haunted farm disturb a centuries-old secret connected to a Native American massacre.
“Fields of the Dead” ends with a ghost asking, “do you understand now?” to a second ghost who voices her assent. I’m glad someone gets it, even if it is a fictional phantom, because there are a number of things I never quite figured out.
The trailer for “Fields of the Dead” hints at an “Evil Dead” setup with the words “they read the book … and unleashed evil.” Redbox summarizes the plot as “a group of college students … find a book that leads them to unwittingly summon demons.” Factor in a clip of one of those students describing the abandoned farm being investigated as hosting a death cult and having a history of Native American massacres, and the pump is primed for a backstory ripe with horrific possibilities.
In actuality, “Fields of the Dead” is just a simple story of one person becoming possessed and killing the others in fairly straightforward fashion. There are ghosts, but no demons. And there is a problematic book, but not along the lines of something that can be likened to the Necronomicon.
The book is a diary that doesn’t summon anything other than exposition. Found literally in the middle of a cornfield, the journal impossibly survived nearly 200 years worth of plowings and rainstorms to show only the most minor signs of aging. Also miraculous is how the thin book conveniently spans ten years in the life of area settler Emma Cartwright, as if her only entries were the ones necessary for advancing the plot.
This diary proves to be a bigger issue for the production than for the characters. In more than one shot, the pages clearly belong to a professionally printed book with typeface font. But in close-ups, the pages are handwritten on yellowed paper like anyone would expect an old journal to be. Some of the wider shots digitally superimpose the handwritten pages into the book. Some of them don’t. It might have been less noticeable had the digital page not bounced around trying to match the onscreen movement before disappearing altogether in the next sequence.
From the book, the students investigating the abandoned farm learn details about the family that settled the surrounding area of Cartwright-Dunhill, which is, well somewhere presumably in the United States. One student researcher wears a Colorado State University tee. Another sports a shirt bearing the New Hampshire state seal, but also a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, so who knows where this is supposed to take place.
Comprising the septet of student researchers is a collection of primarily charmless characters. The wisecracking goofy jock is about the only one who can be identified with adjectives unrelated to physical appearance. The others are best described as the guy with glasses, the blonde with short hair, the blonde with long hair, and the other blonde with long hair.
After the pre-credits scene, just one death takes place over the course of the next hour. It not only makes for a dull movie, but it is unusual since there is rarely any other reason to have a main cast of seven people unless the plan is to rack up a steady body count. Instead, “Fields of the Dead” fills its time with uneventful scenes of slowly pacing through cornfields, collecting soil samples, and looking at busted pieces of wood inside an old barn.
When it is all said and done, “Fields of the Dead” ends only after confusing the story to a point that would blow a robot’s brain with a “does not compute” error. There is a distinct sense that something is missing, and the credits indicate that is probably the case.
An actor named Bill Wassem is given his own title card at both the front and back of the movie. The cast list indicates that he played Dr. Foy, a character who is definitely mentioned, but never seen that I can recall. The cast list additionally credits Pool Players, Dancing Girls, and Party People, who also join that collective group of those never actually shown in the movie. Somewhere there must exist this additional footage. And perhaps lost in that pile are scenes that explain why the good girl ghost becomes bad, what words are being said when the garbled male ghost’s voice is heard, the mystery of Jack Cartwright’s true father, and all of the other miscellaneous details regarding the film that never add up.
They aren’t holes to puzzle over for long, however. “Fields of the Dead” is not so much a movie that you end up hating, just one that you have no lasting opinion on. All of those unanswered questions, along with the movie itself, disappear from the mind altogether the instant the disc goes back into the kiosk slot.
Review Score: 40