Movie Number– 34
Title– Dark Fields (2011)
Running Time– 111 minutes (“R”)
Director– Douglas Schulze
Writer– Douglas Schulze and Kurt Eli Mayry
Starring– David Carradine, Richard Lynch, Dee Wallace Stone, Ellen Sandweiss, and Sasha Higgins
(Originally an IP Movies Review)
When the term “ambitious” is brought up during a review of an independent, low-budget film, the submodifier “too” usually precedes it. Every once in a while, though, a filmmaker comes along that has the talent and ability to make an ambitious project, as well as a successful one, and director Douglas Schulze does just that with Dark Fields.
The farming community of Perseverance is stricken with a terrible curse that plagues the city with droughts. In order to appease the curse, the community is forced to sacrifice three children every generation. The town gathers, and the names of the unlucky few are drawn from a hat. If the curse is not fulfilled, the citizens of Perseverance start getting sick, and will eventually die a slow, agonizing death. The thing is, though, the curse requires those sacrificed to be children, making the decision to satisfy the curse even tougher.
Dark Fields follows three different generations: the late 1800s, the 1950s, and present day. This shows the curse in three separate lights, giving the viewer three different families to follow, and Schulze manages to distinguish between the three generations surprisingly well for a low-budget film. The first story feels like a western, which makes sense given its period (the late 1800s), and follows a single father’s (David Carradine – Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Kung Fu) struggle to keep his crops and two children alive. The second tale features genre legend Dee Wallace Stone (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Cujo, The Howling) as Jean Applebe, a mother of three young girls. Applebe’s husband has dug up the curse, and it is up to him to sacrifice his girls in order to save the village. The present day narrative follows Cari (Sasha Higgins), a college student that starts getting sick like all the rest. Cari is stuck with the difficult decision of following what her father (Richard Lynch – Scarecrow, Invasion U.S.A., The Sword and the Sorcerer) tells her and sacrificing her younger brother, or doing what she can to stop the curse.
The story is intriguing and unpredictable enough to keep the viewer interested for the full runtime of the movie, but the construction of the plot finds some hiccups as the movie progresses. There are a few unexplained elements that only appear late in the film, and feel out of place from the world that is created through the first two-thirds of the film. Exactly what the citizens become when a sacrifice isn’t made is unclear as well: are they vampires, or something else? There is even one moment in the film where the sick citizens look almost like zombies, which I think is more coincidence than a directorial choice. These muddy issues, as well as other unfilled plot holes, hinder Dark Fields, just as they would for any film, low-budget or not.
Even with these negatives, Dark Fields is an independent film worth seeing for a couple of reasons, the biggest being the high quality performances by David Carradine, Dee Wallace Stone, and Richard Lynch. These three actors live up to their expectations as veterans, and stand far and above as the best in the film. There are also a lot of child actors in the movie that manage some excellent work for their age. The protagonist, Sasha Higgins, looks amateurish next to the big screen legends, and is one of the weak links of the acting talent. Ellen Sandweiss (of The Evil Dead fame) is also deserving of a mention for her memorable work with her small role in the film.
The other reason to watch Dark Fields is because of the job done by cinematographer Lon Stratton. Stratton and Schulze use a ton of different filming techniques to tell the story, and these help keep the audience engaged. The duo uses a lot of unique shots without going overboard, and almost every moment in the film seems necessary to tell the story, which is the mark of talented filmmakers.
Dark Fields is an interesting mix of B-movie plot, and big-budget acting and filmmaking. This results in a movie that deserves its direct-to-video release, but is still worth seeing. Douglas Schulze shows an incredible amount of talent with Dark Fields, and reminds viewers that quality should be expected, even from low-budget, independent films.