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The Fallow Field (2008)
Director: Leigh Dovey

review by Paul Higson

The Fallow Field popped up in 2008 in an erroneous announcement as a completed feature film on the database at Brit-films online. Clicking onto their website told only of a hinted at pre-production. With so little to go on, a bit of artwork, a few shots that looked like location scouting and next to nothing of the storyline (with good reason)... The Fallow Field did not immediately add up to anything of note. One year on and the film is with us and it is here to pleasantly surprise.

Leigh Dovey's The Fallow Field opens with an aesthetically appealing montage of landscapes, morning dew and blue heavens as Matt Sadler (Steve Garry) awakens in the middle of a field suffering from amnesia and makes his way home from there. Missing for a week, the police investigated, but this is part of a succession of vanishing acts and as long as he turns up healthy and unrelated to any criminal act they are weary of him and become no more involved. Having put up with a year of this, the two women in his life, a wife and a bit on the sly, have had enough too and both take their leave of him on the same night. Left alone, the pull of the mystery draws Sadler back to the field where he had found himself in search of answers.

Trawling the immediate countryside he comes upon a remote farmhouse and encounters the disconcerting owner, Calham (Michael Dacre). The meeting is captured in an adventurous tracking two-shot with the younger man constantly backing away from the burlier farmer. Sadler is invited into the kitchen for a drink but instead has his throat slit. The next day, Sadler is still on the farm but in chains and his throat intact. He is forced to bear witness as Calham abducts a young woman and kills her. One day on, and Calham re-deposits the woman back in her waiting vehicle where she will awaken in some small state of confusion and continue her journey home. This is the point at which the concept is revealed and it is a novel one. Like all genuine story ideas it will in part write itself offering up many potential directions. Writer and director Dovey thankfully understands this and has taken the time to explore every facet of his diamond of a notion and depositing all neatly into the finished script in the most effective sequence of events.

The disclosure of the premise is followed immediately in the film by a two-shot close up sequence lasting several minutes, a 'talking heads' interlude cutting repeatedly from Sadler to Calham, which most filmmakers would have shied away from as not filmic enough, but Dovey is assured enough in the composition of his dialogue to understand that it possesses the power to captivate the listener. It is old school simplicity in itself, and might be thought unadventurous, but the intercourse does not so much carry the viewer along as it does have them pursue the continuing thoughts and notions thrown up by the premise. Each line becomes precious and the sequence might one day become a textbook study of the power and importance of the cheapest resource a filmmaker has at his or her disposal, and that is the dialogue. The British horror film is not short on good scripts, for which we can be thankful, but it is time to start stabbing fingers in the direction of failing filmmakers who refuse to pick up on the essentials as there are still too many films which are dead in the dialogue department, of which The Descent 2, Gnaw, and Splintered (also shown over the Grimm Up North Halloween weekend in Manchester), are three such examples.

The Fallow Field is smart-chops horror but it does put me in a position were it is difficult to discuss it without giving too much away and to do so might remove from the experience as it is a low-budget production with a small cast and limited locations and is largely dependent of its story and the surprises it brings. The film has a steady forward momentum most of which is the responsibility of the two leading players, and one can hope that Steve Garry and Michael Dacre are duly rewarded in their continuing careers. The concept allows for discussion on how a supernatural opportunity allows a 'serial killer' to think differently and even offers the unique possibility of someone who might still qualify for that tag of 'serial killer' even if he was only to have the one victim.

Mother nature is held partly culpable in her habitual balancing act and in the emerging foul deeds. Like Strigoi (which was also screened over the festival weekend, and also revolving around a similar theme), a lore is posited but why restrict yourself to rules when the other option is variations to that lore. The mathematics of agriculture are engaged with different results on the supernatural play "..and when things go wrong... they come out all twisted... like poor Henry!" recounts Calham, in reference to a spluttering and giggling horror tucked away in the dark at the back of the pig sheds.

To say anything more would be to reveal too much but one must mention a chase sequence. The chase involves four cast members, each ahead a pace of one another, each with a different mindset: the knowing victim, the ignorant victim, the cold killer and the deranged animal. It cuts from one to another, the viewer switching quickly from one understanding to the next and at the same time to their relationship to one another. It is like the night chase from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre but with an ultra plus. The viewer is hurled into a mental juggling act which might not have occurred had two of the characters run together in tandem. This stepping is again an example of the consideration given by the filmmakers to structural and scenic effectiveness and to viewer interaction. Others could learn so much from this film, others with more money and freedom. Dovey confesses to harkening back to British landscape horrors of the 1970s, in particular Pete Walker's Frightmare, and possibly Joseph Larraz's Expose, though this meets and betters them. There have been a spate of good British barnyard horrors and this would make a great companion piece to Isolation, but also to other films set in a remote countryside idyll like Andy Thompson's time-shifting crowd-pleaser The Scar Crow. The Fallow Field is a sterling addition to the growing crop of intelligent British horror films and it deserves a great deal of attention. Let's hope that it gets it.

The Fallow Field

Calham's shotgun in The Fallow Field

Natalie in The Fallow Field

Grimm Up North - Halloween horror film festival 2009



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