It can seem like there are limited choices for first-time horror filmmakers. You can go with zombies, because everyone loves zombies. Found-footage might be a good way to mask your lack of budget. And then there’s the torture route, because it’s cheap and will appeal to the gore hounds.
With its remote farmhouse setting and the poster’s comparison to Greg Mclean’s gruelling Wolf Creek, The Fallow Field looks like it’s going to take the third option. But this debut from writer/director Leigh Dovey uses a familiar setting to tell a beguilingly gruesome tale.
Matt (Steve Garry) has woken up in the countryside with no memory of how he got there and it’s not the first time this has happened. Determined to find out why he is so drawn to a particular farmhouse, he finds himself in the clutches of killer farmer Calham (Michael Dacre) and discovers what the local soil yields.
While the first 20 minutes appear to be sowing the seeds of home improvement tool misuse, Dovey plays his trump card towards the end of the first act and allows a restrained but decidedly unsettling two-hander to play out at its own pace. Rather than taking the Texas Chain Saw Massacre route, the film turns into a nasty morality play. The power of Calham’s land allows him to justify his murders as victimless crimes. Will Matt come around to his captor’s way of thinking?
The Fallow Field occasionally stretches itself a little too far and a couple of scenes could have been trimmed, but it’s a well-written and atmospheric two-hander in which the familiar ‘staring-into-the-abyss’ conundrum is given a neat twist. The film’s been promoted as a return to Seventies-style horror but there’s a big Stephen King influence, and it recalls Clive Barker’s early work in its earthy unpleasantness.
While films like Wolf Creek might be the easiest point of comparison, the torture association does the film a disservice; it’s an unsettling piece of character horror that gets under your skin. A very promising debut.