Review: The Fallow Field

The Fallow Field (2009)
Production company: Figment
Directed by: Leigh Dovey
Starring: Steve Garry, Michael Dacre, Natalie Overs, Johnny Vivash
Review by: Ben Bussey

Matt Sadler (Garry) has a few problems in his life. First off, his missus no longer wants anything to do with him. Secondly, the mistress he’s been keeping, who has in no small part contributed to his being dumped by his missus, also no longer wants anything to do with him. And yet, neither of these causes for concern are quite so troubling as the fact that Matt cannot recall where he has been or what he has been doing for the past week. Nor is this the first time he has had such an episode. Anxious to learn the truth behind his memory loss, Matt finds himself driving through the countryside, fuelled by some obscure feeling that he has been there before. This leads him to a remote farm, inhabited by a sinister lone farmer, Calham (Dacre). At first Matt is certain the two of them have never met before, but before long he learns this is not the case; Calham is in fact very much involved with Matt, and more specifically Matt’s blackouts. Soon Matt learns the full extent of Calham’s dark and deviant hobbies, and how they tie in to a most unusual field on his land.

Not long into The Fallow Field, I found myself thinking “hmm, this is kind of like a blend of Memento and Wolf Creek.” Not long thereafter, on reading the press kit PDF, I found the film described as – lo and behold – “echoing shades of Memento and Wolf Creek but set against the backdrop of English harvest time.” Feels odd and a little jarring to read a film officially surmised in near enough the exact same terms I had used in my head, and in a strange way it augments my overall feelings about the film itself; the overriding feeling being, I’m sorry to say, one of disappointment. I can see what the filmmakers were aiming for, and respect their ambition to craft something distinct and sophisticated, but sadly The Fallow Field falls some distance short of the mark.

I do tend to take umbrage with any film that takes itself too seriously, and that is very much the case here. Being for the most part a two-man show with a slow burn pace, built largely from protacted scenes of dialogue replete with frequent lengthy silences, The Fallow Field almost feels like the horror movie Harold Pinter never made. Leigh Dovey’s script and direction emphasise character, atmosphere and tension over explicit detail, and as an artistic choice I have no problem with this whatsoever. However, such an approach can only be entirely effective if the script and the actors are of the requisite calibre, and I’m afraid this simply isn’t the case here. Steve Garry’s Matt and Michael Dacre’s Calham may be suitably mismatched physically as the bemused city boy and the predatory country bumpkin (FYI, that’s essentially the British equivalent of redneck), but neither actor really inhabits their role the way the film needs them to, and Dovey’s frequently lacklustre dialogue does them few favours. The complete absence of humour lends proceedings an air of stiff formality, which may have been intended to boost the tension but ultimately only serves to make the film a more alienating and tedious experience.

It gives me little pleasure to have to say this of The Fallow Field, as the potential was there for something better. Not all the efforts toward tension and atmosphere are in vain; Nicholas Kindon’s cinematography is decent, as is Adam Ford’s low, moody soundtrack. Dovey’s script is not without its strengths either; the first act does carry a genuine sense of mystery and a couple of bona fide surprises, and the central macguffin (which I’m not about to spoil, thank you very much) is an interesting one, reminscent of vintage Stephen King. But when all is said and done, The Fallow Field simply doesn’t pack the kind of punch aims to. Even so, I very much hope we’ll see Mr Dovey behind the camera again soon, having learned a few lessons; I daresay we may yet see some very good work out of this director. Alas, on this evidence he’s not quite there yet.

11 comments

  1. What a cruel and condescending review, running tantamount to what other reviewer and festival goers are telling us. Being open-minded there will be some truth in the idea that my portrayal of Callum was emotionally under-developed; this was my first feature in a major role and I was getting used to the technicalities of the medium. However, anybody who has seen the head to head barn scene in the middle of the film would be in no doubt that the actors engaged with the characters. Bear in mind that this was a difficult drama to play with a superior script to all others I had seen at the time or since. To simply role Callum as a country-bumpkin is an over-simpification of his outlook, needs and wants and has no relevance to the confrontation between characters which centres on a definition of masculinity.
    Kind of grow up Ben will you. When you chuck out statements like the actor were lacking in calibre you will always have to answer to your assessment. Its easy to sit in an armchair and offer critique: those who can do and those who can’t become journalists.

  2. Hunh. I thought the review was remarkably charitable. Personally, this is the kind of review that would more likely to get me to watch the movie more than anything else simply because it’s honest about the parts that the viewer/writer believe to be the weak points. If I get a chance to pick this up I’ll probably give it a watch. Interesting premise.

  3. Ah, ever so cruel a review to contain such audacious remarks as
    “I can see what the filmmakers were aiming for, and respect their ambition to craft something distinct and sophisticated”
    or even
    “Not all the efforts toward tension and atmosphere are in vain; Nicholas Kindon’s cinematography is decent, as is Adam Ford’s low, moody soundtrack. Dovey’s script is not without its strengths either; the first act does carry a genuine sense of mystery and a couple of bona fide surprises, and the central macguffin (which I’m not about to spoil, thank you very much) is an interesting one”
    and the nail in the coffin
    “I very much hope we’ll see Mr Dovey behind the camera again soon, having learned a few lessons; I daresay we may yet see some very good work out of this director.”

    Ben is entitled to not like a movie, and he didn’t do so with any cruelty or malice, citing both the film’s highs and lows. Your issue seems to be that not that Ben wasn’t engaged fully by the film, but rather that he found your portrayal lacking the gravitas for the script.
    Rather than attacking the reviewer and his critique, maybe you should take the opinion, and the fact that other reviewers have said similar remarks, and use them as a stepping stone in your future endeavors. You say that this is your first feature? Well, keep in mind that Ben didn’t tell you to stay off the screen, he said the performance was a little weak. So, rookie, maybe you should admit that you’ve some growing to do in your stage presence, as it would be with any first-timer, and prepare yourself for such a professional journey.

    You’ve got a long road ahead of you, filled with many criticisms. And even an Oscar-winning performance will be panned by some handful of critics out there, so best get used to it.

    “Its easy to sit in an armchair and offer critique: those who can do and those who can’t become journalists.”
    What an asinine statement. Aren’t you just sitting in your armchair, offering critique on Ben’s journalism when you, in fact, likely have no writing experience yourself? Do you think that only other actors can offer criticism on performances?
    Regardless, Ben is a Journalist, not because he’s a poor actor, but because he’s a damn fine writer, and many thousands of readers respect his opinion.
    Your job as an actor is to wow an audience. Ben may not be a trained actor, with experience in the trade, but he is, nevertheless, your audience. He was not wowed, and is simply offering up an honest opinion to the rest of his audience members. Is he not entitled, having sampled your wares?

    Best to just accept the criticism and move on, friend. I can promise you that curious film-goers will be turned off from the movie, not by the review so much as your response to it.

  4. If this had been an entirely positive review (and frankly even these reviews usually have a grain of negative criticism in them) would Michael Dacre accept the praise? Is it only balanced critique that offends, and in any case, if anything ‘journalists’ say is unimportant, I wonder why he bothered to respond to it at all.

  5. Mr Dacre, if you expect to last long in this business you better grow some thick skin, and fast. And also helpful… don’t read every review. Matter of fact, I was recently talking to an amazing young actor Marc Senter of Red White & Blue (interview forthcoming). One of the best things he said was that he often times AVOIDS reading the reviews. It’s pointless. Not everyone is going to love your film, or your work in it. Thick skin and deep introspection on whether you really nailed it in every scene is imperative if you want to make it.

    Just my two cents as a lazy armchair critic.

    Marc Patterson
    Editor-in-chief – BrutalAsHell.com

  6. What other reviewers critisised either The Fallow Field on the same grouds as Ben Bussey? No others as far as I can tell. As I stated ‘being open-minded’ I DID take on-board what Ben had to say and intend to work further on my emotional develoment in the future. I didn’t regard Ben’s review as an attack on my manhood, I felt he didn’t understand the context and issues that surround the movis. And thaks ediitor maybe I shouldn’t read reviews.

  7. Oh and sorry for all the spelling mistakes. The ammount of venom out there I’m sure you’d all do a way better Callum than me and I feel suitably humbled and nervous.

  8. Sorry one last thing now – have overcome my shock that people actually post on horror sites. It is a horrible thought for an actor that he might have let down a director who he trusted and respected. Which might explain my bothering to come back on Bens remarks when I should have stayed out. But Dustin have you seen the movie? And please post all the further negative reviews so I can read them. I will be trying my best to get back on the buildings so as not to upset you further and leave the performing to those who have calibre. And if I haven’t been respectful please come and kick my arse. Mmmm really

    1. No worries Michael. All is well! Again – just remember to take criticism with a grain of salt. We horrorphiles tend to watch HUNDREDS of films a year, and further – we all watch them very differently. If only you could hear some of the geeked out arguments critics get into with each other! It’s ridiculous. This alone is probably why you shouldn’t bother reading reviews. Even within this site we disagree with each other. So – it’s all good. 🙂

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