I went into Escape the Field figuring it would be an off-brand In the Tall Grass, which is good enough that even a knock-off version seemed like a worthwhile way to spend an evening. This film (directed by Emerson Moore and written by Moore, Sean Wathern, and Joshua Dobkin) came out on May 6th, 2022, and if it’s not still in theaters when this comes out, you can rent it on Amazon.
Boilerplate SPOILER WARNING for the whole film.
We’ve got some fun tropes here: a woman called Sam (Jordan Claire Robbins) wakes up in a cornfield maze with no idea how she got there. She has been left a gun with one bullet. There’s a spider crawling on her face for the aesthetic.
It turns out there are other people trapped in the field, and they also have random items—matches, a knife, etc. For reference, our full cast is Sam, the sympathetic lead, Tyler (Theo Rossi) the nice guy you root for, Ryan (Shane West), the toughie, Denise (Elena Juatco), the sexy one who doesn’t do much, Ethan (Julian Feder), the cute/sympathetic kid, and Cameron (Tahirah Sharif), who is just…entirely unpleasant.
So far, so Maze Runner. There’s some group tension, characters coming and going, and general shenanigans before Escape the Field turns into an escape room movie as the The Gang realizes they have to solve puzzles. They do this a little too easily, because most of the challenges involve fitting their given items into other things.
However, a scary something-or-other that runs around stabbing people keeps interrupting Family Fun in the Corn Maze. I’m going to call him the maze-beast. His favorite hobby is stabbing.
Also inhabiting the maze are weird scarecrow-creatures, some of who shoot darts with mystery substances in them. These guys are some of the freakiest visuals of the whole thing.
Per usual, the cast drops like flies as they progress through puzzle-based tasks. Finally, Sam and Tyler reach a machine they’re able to shut off…to no result! Because they’re mice in a maze! Who could have seen this coming?
And then, the maze-beast kills Tyler. Sam isn’t pleased about this, so she sets him on fire, in a decent display of badassery.
The film ends with some guys in gas masks coming out and hauling Sam away, while a voiceover speaks jargon about procedures and moving on to “Stage Two,” insinuating it’s some sort of experiment (and also that if the studio will fund it, there’s going to be a sequel).
Denise teased the whole “government experiment” idea earlier, with some backup from Cameron, who is a coder. Denise worked for the Pentagon! And allegedly dealt with data that could only have come from experiments like this! She mentions it randomly, it never comes up again, and then maze-beast gets her!
This would have been such a cool storyline. I feel robbed.
We also get an end credits scene. Which didn’t seem to come up for me when I rented it on Amazon, but according to Fiction Horizon, it’s a shot of Ryan becoming the new maze-beast, in the classic cycle-repeating horror trope.
Escape the Field isn’t a good movie, but there was potential, and the atmosphere is enjoyably creepy, melding a Midwest gothic vibe with an evil institute feel.
To fix the rest of it, I’d cut down the cast (axing Denise and Ethan is a no-brainer, and realistically, Ryan and Tyler could be combined). If the guy who comes out of the corn counting and saying there’s no way out is going to exist, he needs a little more purpose and explanation. Given the ending, it seems unlikely a random survivor would be left in the maze (with the exception of the doped-up maze-beast), so what’s the deal with “Business Man,” as he’s referred to in the credits?
(He’s Emerson Moore doing a cameo, btw.)
I’d also pick a thread to follow. Is this a movie about a sadistic puzzle, with a focus on solving riddles, or is it a movie about government experiments with a mystery element? If you’re going to drop the breadcrumbs about Pentagon experiments and pretty much confirm them in the end, give us a little more to go on, and let the characters engage with the concept a little more.
Keep the tension and the scary robo-scarecrows, tidy up the cast, pick a plotline and stick to it, and you have yourself a winner, instead of the mediocre film we ended up with.
Final rating: 2.5/5 stars—watchable but no real shame if you skip it.