Film - The Stalking Fields

With the film now available on digital platforms, Jon B watched The Stalking Fields...

Ric Maddox’s The Stalking Fields doesn’t lack ambition. It’s a production marked by low-budget shortcomings – inconsistent costume quality, plastic-looking guns, visual effects varying from serviceable to poor – but possesses moments of potential, despite its flaws.

Woodman, an ex-soldier with nothing to lose, is recruited into a PTSD “rehabilitation” program after his wife dies in a road accident. The catch: said program involves hunting and executing civilians in the American wilderness. Concurrently, half the narrative focuses on said civilians, who exclaim “what the fuck” a dozen times a minute and are varying levels of inept, obnoxious, or tediously generic; a menagerie of cut-outs we want to see picked off; a cliché they should be anything but. The other army folk relish in killing while Woodman doesn’t – despite his career body-count – and internal disputes between the program heads simmer behind the scenes throughout.

If this premise sounds faulty, that’s because it is. It’s clear that “rehabilitation” means converting veterans back to active-duty, so why are kill-thirsty hunters still frequenting the program rather than people like Woodman? It’d certainly make for more emotional complexity; think former-killers going after unnamed targets in a “mandatory” course before re-enlistment, weighing up apprehensive instability with instinct and moral nihilism. Only one other combatant relates to this: the nervous, teenage son of another veteran, who’s obviously being groomed to kill, but lacks substantial characterisation and is dismissed from the narrative before any is given. It’s a wasted opportunity, as he and Woodman could have a plausible rapport.

Furthermore, the film features a montage of the civilian victims committing various sins – blackmail, embezzlement, general dysfunction – but I’d say these are misdemeanours compared to, say, life-servers or death-row inmates; a demographic which would add plausibility to the premise as a scheme to remove prison populations rather than rehabilitate them. It’s perfect for the theme, plus it’s a missed opportunity to critique American culture from a movie already eager to do so. Of course, this would run the risk of having near to no sympathetic characters, but the movie fails to do this for the victims anyway. Besides, it should be quality over quantity, and numerous characters could be exchanged for the sympathy and depth of one – notably Woodman.

With all this considered, though, there are some gems in the rough. The movie makes a strong impression, sporting some solid indoor set-design, despite a shoestring budget; a consistency I wish was maintained, but becomes wince-worthy once guns are introduced. Sean Crampton also gives a memorable performance as Woodman, demonstrating that the emotional crack of a tormented stoic is infinitely more effective than a pack of hysterical nitwits. It’s just a shame the supporting characters – notably his wife and deceased military comrades we see during flashbacks – are insipid stereotypes that fail to invest us in any capacity. It all ends up feeling a bit superficial.

Additionally, Rachael Markarian pulls off the white-collar villain role well, although the generic nature of her character is a detriment to her abilities – a case of “doing one’s best with the material”, if you will. Note, both these characters are from the hunter side; there’s very little to say about the hunted. Frankly, I’d be happier if they had minimal screen-time.

The Stalking Fields isn’t unsalvageable. Ric Maddox has the potential to shake vapid tropes and say something more with the narrative foundation. With subversion and nuance, there’s a great movie here waiting to be realised.

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