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.