Prisoners of the corn. Sam (Jordan Claire Robbins) awakes in the middle of a cornfield with no knowledge of how she has arrived. All she has is a revolver with one bullet. Not long after, she comes in contact with Tyler (Theo Rossi), who too is carrying a random item of matches and too carries no knowledge of how he got here.
Exploring their setting introduces four additional strangers with the same path to the cornfield in Ryan (Shane West), Denise (Elena Juatco), Ethan (Julian Feder), and Cameron (Tahirah Sharif). It doesn’t take long for them to realize that they are not alone, and their only chance of survival is working together using their wits and given items to solve the mystery.
As we’ve made it past the official two year mark in this pandemic, the film industry has molded a few of its features literally and figuratively in real time. Sure, technically any film that wasn’t completed prior to the official beginning of COVID-19 has been affected somewhat. However, it is clear a sizable handful have either embraced it or have had no choice but to tweak around it. Some, like the apropos titled Locked Down, Host, and Songbird incorporate COVID directly into their scripts; others such as Malcolm and Marie and even No Sudden Move were adjusted to minimize safety risks of all involved and the effects can be seen in certain scenes, if not the entire runtime. Escape the Field is much of the same, a fairly lean cast shot in one location sparse on people and plot.
Let’s begin with the adequate. First-time feature director and co-writer Emerson Moore opens Escape the Field with a strong start, shooting from above and then descending onto ground level in the cornfield with Sam. Many movies have thrived on taking place in one location; what Escape the Field has going for it at least in the beginning is its setting. While not quite claustrophobic, there remains something compelling and unsettling about being surrounded by maize stalks, and as a result, the first 20 or so minutes are rather hooking.
The problem is, after those 20 or so minutes, 60 minutes still remain and instead of gradually building to a tense final act with more and more revealed about not only the characters but why they’re here and what is after them…we don’t find out much at all. Each character happens to deliver a snippet of their backstory that would be akin to seeing a character’s bio on the loading screen of an old arcade game. Calling them caricatures would give too much credit to caricatures because at least they carry inherent traits assumed with their archetypes; save maybe for West’s Ryan, everyone else is indistinguishable and featureless. It would be a godsend to know why a cornfield is the prison of choice for these individuals, how specifically they were unknowingly delivered, what is the purpose of them being selected, and what the deal is of the red eyed “beast” coursing with a form of aggro through its veins stalking these strangers.
Near the end, Moore along with co-writers Sean M. Wathen and J.D. Dobkin strongly imply that this engagement is “mechanical” in nature. Cool. Issue is, the reveal comes way too late in the game and the dialogue is drowned out by an annoying score…so more questions than answers. Thematically and visually, this feels like a mashing of The Purge, Escape Room, The Maze Runner, and Saw. None of those films are amazing but at least they respectively had the gumption to answer many of the questions they posed, not to mention provide official closure for all of their characters either immediately or over time. The fact that the fate of two characters is essentially left either open for debate or simply forgotten about until mid-credits (maybe dreams of a VOD franchise exist where deeper dives and more world/character building come about but that’s a large leap to make) is mind-boggling.
It’s not that Escape the Field needed to be “good,”; I doubt that many even knew that it was releasing this coming Friday or even aware of its existence. But with a conventional yet engaging premise, this could be the type of movie that is entertaining for what it is as a new date night watch, rainy day streaming counterprogramming, etc. if there were only halfway decent writing efforts at best. Not so here. Escape the Field is available on VOD and in select theaters this Friday.
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