A group of strangers wake up somewhere with no idea of where they are, how they got there, or why they’re there. Sound familiar? That’s the starting point of Escape the Field, a new thriller from first-time feature director Emerson Moore and his co-writers Sean Wathen and Joshua Dobkin.
Sam (Jordan Claire Robbins, The Umbrella Academy, Anon) wakes up, still in her scrubs, in a cornfield with a revolver and one bullet beside her. While she’s trying to figure out how she got there, or where “there” is, Tyler (Theo Rossi, Army of the Dead, Ghosts of War) stumbles across her. They in turn run into other survivors, Ryan (Shane West, Awakening the Zodiac, Echelon Conspiracy), Ethan (Julian Feder, The Doorman, Walkaway Joe), Rachel (Niki Kerro, The Final Ride, Secret Santa), and Denise (Elena Juatco, Jann, Dark Cargo). Eventually, they’re joined by Cameron (Tahirah Sharif, The Kindred, The Haunting of Bly Manor).
It’s all very familiar territory, but Moore works it well. The cornfield is a wonderfully economical way to give Escape the Field a claustrophobic location. Anyone who has ever been in one can tell you how easy it is to become disoriented and cut off from everything around you. That sense of isolation is also extremely creepy at night, especially once they realize something is in there with them.
The presence of this “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” wannabe also makes for a needed distraction from all of the expected squabbling. Escape the Field’s characters are the usual archetypes and do much of the usual bad behavior we expect in these situations. Withholding supplies, not being honest about themselves, bullying, tossing out conspiracy theories, etc. The only thing that they seem to be sure of is that escape isn’t as easy as simply walking out.
By the midpoint, Escape the Field feels like a cross between In the Tall Grass, Children of the Corn, and Rows with a weird science edge. Someone or something is observing and manipulating them. But who is using them as lab rats and to what end?
Unraveling it all makes for an entertaining trip, but one with few surprises. As with the rest of the film, Escape the Field also relies on a lot of familiar material in between those moments. Lost glasses, group members accidentally killing each other, others getting killed as soon as they’re told they have to make it out alive, the Afghanistan vet smearing his face with mud and going back into combat mode.
Even the final resolution is well-staged but unsurprising. Escape the Field doesn’t give all of its secrets away, they need to save something for part two I suppose, but what we do find out is utterly predictable. And that leaves me wondering why couldn’t the filmmakers see just how by the numbers it all is? I get this is their first feature but surely they’ve seen other films. They wouldn’t have to see many to realize how tired most of Escape the Field’s story elements were. That includes the mid-credits scene as well.
In the end, Escape the Field is as frustrating as it is entertaining. It’s well shot, has a score that helps drive the film, and features some excellent performances from the mostly familiar cast. The film’s fights and chases are all well-staged as well. And while that managed to keep me interested, it couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I’d seen it all before. Several times in fact.