The latest film to fail to properly utilize the cornfield’s unique horror setting, Escape the Field isn’t the least bit scary, clever, or compelling.
Speaking as someone who was born and raised in the Midwest, cornfields are indeed more horrifying than their placid demeanor would at first suggest. What looks from afar like immaculately symmetrical rows of gorgeous green vegetation are, in reality, towering behemoths of terror, leaves sharp and rough, their intimidating heights seemingly never-ending as one looks to the sky for some sense of place or direction, the ground exceedingly soft underfoot. Rather surprisingly, very few filmmakers have exploited these features for maximum shock value, save for the occasional scene here and there in the likes of Jeepers Creepers 2 and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Sure, we have the seemingly infinite Children of the Corn franchise, based on a short story from one Stephen King himself, but that has more to do with pagan gods, ritualistic sacrifice, and folk horror trappings than pure corn terror (though one can never be sure what’s hiding in those sinister stalks).
New thriller Escape the Field looks to remedy this oversight. Set entirely within the confines of a sprawling cornfield, the film concerns six strangers who awake in maize hell, unable to remember how they got there. Armed only with a single item found at their side upon awaking — gun, bullet, compass, canteen, matches, knife — the disparate group must work together if they ever hope to make it out alive, as someone — or something — keeps popping out from behind the rows, dragging them away one by one. As that plot synopsis makes abundantly clear, Escape the Field is yet another gloss on Cube, in which a group of strangers had to escape a maze of various rooms, the majority booby-trapped for maximum gross-out goodness. Unfortunately, Escape the Field has no such features, opting instead for the aforementioned “thing” to jump out occasionally while our six protagonists get lost, complain nonstop, and shoot shady eyes at one another. Think Blair Witch meets Cube — that’s to say, Escape Room — as it’s soon discovered that a series of clues exist that will lead our heroes to safety — that is, if they can figure out the puzzles in time.
Perhaps all of this would go down easier if any of these characters were the least bit likeable or developed beyond one or two stereotypical and increasingly insulting traits, but such is not the case. Sam (Jordan Claire Robbins) has on scrubs, so she is a doctor; Tyler (Theo Rossi) briefly mentions his seven-year-old daughter, so you know he’s a goner; Ethan (Julian Feder) has on a private school uniform and looks like D.J. from Roseanne; Denise (Elena Juatco) has on a nightgown and works for the Pentagon, so she occasionally talks about government conspiracies; Cameron (Tahirah Sharif) is a lesbian who, at one point, loses her glasses and Velmas her way through a murder scene; and, finally, Ryan (Shane West) is an ex-militaryman who apparently got his entire troop killed and at one point utters the following line while looking at a sunset: “This reminds me of Afghanistan. Sky on fire. Perfectly beautiful.” He’s later shot with a syringe by a crash test dummy made up to look like a scarecrow, the serum turning him into a red-eyed monster that has super-strength and forces him to reenact Apocalypse Now for a few minutes, because this film is deep like that. You see, in combat he was a monster, and now he’s… a monster. Escape the Field is nothing if not a stunning takedown of the American military-industrial complex.
What it’s not, however, is the least bit scary. Or compelling. Or even remotely interesting. This is one of those films that features the likes of quicksand and cannibalism, and yet still feels like absolutely nothing happens in its brief 88-minute runtime. First-time director Emerson Moore demonstrates no skill in creating or maintaining an appropriate atmosphere of dread, a remarkable accomplishment considering the setting itself should do most of the heavy lifting. The acting is all dreadful, although West manages to entertainingly chew a few bits of scenery here and there, while the score sounds like it comes courtesy of a lobotomized Hans Zimmer. The field may prove impossible for our protagonists to escape, but luckily viewers should encounter no such issue: simply avoid this bumper crop of bullshit, a film that has the audacity to leave the door open for a sequel. Please, someone close it on your way out.
Published as part of Before We Vanish — May 2022.