Escape The Field

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Theo Rossi, Jordan Claire Robbins, Shane West, Elena Juatco and Julian Feder in Escape The Field
"Director/co-writer Emerson Moore has crafted a superior example of its type thanks to decent character work, puzzles which actually present a challenge, and a capable lead." | Photo: courtesy of Lionsgate

Six strangers wake up in a cornfield with no idea how they got there. Each has been supplied with a single item, marked with a distinctive symbol. They have no food or water, and something is hunting them. It’s one of those high concept scenarios which filmmakers pull out when they can’t be bothered with preamble and want to get straight into the action. The format is very hit and miss, but here, if one overlooks the unlikeliness of the set-up (for which we never are given a truly satisfactory explanation), there’s a lot to enjoy. Director/co-writer Emerson Moore has crafted a superior example of its type thanks to decent character work, puzzles which actually present a challenge, and a capable lead.

This latter is Jordan Claire Robbins, best known for her recurring role in The Umbrella Academy, who plays Sam. Being white, blond and one of just three women, she’s always going to be a good bet for final girl, but she imbues her character with more personality than that, making her successes feel earned. Sam is a doctor; she woke up with a gun beside her, plus a single bullet. The first person she meets is Tyler (Theo Rossi), who has a small container of matches, and the two go on to form a strong bond, though thankfully Moore doesn’t waste out time with romance. Without that distracting element, their friendship feels more real – and, again, earned.

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They are joined, in short order, by twitchy Afghan war veteran Ryan (Shane West), who has a lantern; cynical Pentagon worker Denise (Elena Juatco), who has a knife; primly dressed student Ethan (Julian Feder), who has a compass; and highly strung programmer Cameron (Tahirah Sharif), who initially keeps her item secret and has a strong distrust of authority. In a film which is refreshingly free from macho posturing, with Tyler quick to de-escalate potential conflicts and Ryan alert to the damage that aggression can do to a team, it’s Cameron, a black lesbian who has had more than her fill of mistreatment before finding herself in this situation, who provides the initial source of conflict. The group is quick to pull together, however, upon realising the severity of the external threat.

There are things here which will irritate some viewers. It takes quite a while for anyone to investigate the corn as a potential source of food or water, and even then it’s not done properly; nobody considers it, or the fence posts they find, as a potential source of weaponry, warm clothing, armour or rope, though all of those would be easy to make. If this indicates a failure to really apply themselves to the situation, however, they make up for it with their quick analysis of the various challenges which have been set for them, like experienced players of computer games who have never been required to think laterally. There are applications for some of their tools which may elicit surprise, and most of the film is well structured, setting up conundrums which a smart and observant person can figure out but which are not too obvious.

Unsurprisingly, the film’s biggest problem is its ending. It’s really hard to come up with an ingenious solution to the underlying mystery in this kind of scenario. Escape The Field doesn’t pull it off; it does do a bit of prior signally to mitigate disappointment, but it then hints at a sequel, which deprives it of some of its punch. There’s only about five minutes of this stuff, though, so it’s easy enough to overlook if you enjoy the rest. As a slice of action, it’s a fun film, with a fair bit of gore for those who like that sort of thing but, most importantly, with characters who make us feel like it matters.

Reviewed on: 04 May 2022
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Six strangers wake up trapped in a seemingly endless cornfield and discover that something mysterious is hunting them.

Director: Emerson Moore

Writer: Emerson Moore, Sean Wathen, Joshua Dobkin

Starring: Jordan Claire Robbins, Theo Rossi, Shane West, Tahirah Sharif, Elena Juatco, Julian Feder

Year: 2022

Runtime: 79 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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