Synopsis: Inspired by true events, this tense and haunting thriller follows Detective Souder (Sam Worthington), a homicide detective in a small Texan town, and his partner, transplanted New York City cop DetectiveHeigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as they track a sadistic serial killer dumping his victims’ mutilated bodies in a nearby marsh locals call “The Killing Fields.” Though the swampland crime scenes are outside their jurisdiction, Detective Heigh is unable to turn his back on solving the gruesome murders. Despite his partner’s warnings, he sets out to investigate the crimes. Before long, the killer changes the game and begins hunting the detectives, teasing them with possible clues at the crime scenes while always remaining one step ahead. When familiar local girl Anne (Chloe Grace Moretz) goes missing, the detectives find themselves racing against time to catch the killer and save the young girl’s life.
Release Date: October 7, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Action
Two detectives work the beat in Texas City, Texas; a relatively small jurisdiction compared with the larger county in the area that includes “the fields”. Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) grew up in the area, his father a local he used to drive home at the age of eleven when he had had too much to drink. Mike wants nothing to do with the fields, or his ex-wife who is a Detective in that area, Pam (Jessica Chastain). Brian is a recent transplant to Texas City, a man devoted to his faith he says a prayer for the victims of crimes he comes into contact with during his job. He also has a soft spot for children from abusive families, Anne Sliger (Chloe Moritz) being the one Texas Killing Fields will focus upon.
Based on a true story, Texas Killing Fields chronicles the time spent by Brian, Mike, and Pam as they investigate what locals call “The Texas Killing Fields”–the fields encompass areas of land that run along Interstate 45 just outside Texas City limits where over fifty bodies of sexual assault victims have been dumped, beginning in 1969. The fields are awash with folklore, being called “infected” by some, and tales of cannibalism fill the air. The trickiest part of solving a case involving the fields is finding the body amidst a large expanse of area that is inaccessible, and discovering clues before the unpredictable weather washes them away. The case of a young girl, a presumed prostitute, leads Brian to look deeper into the field murders, while Mike does everything possible to avoid being a part of the case. Pam, a hardheaded detective determined to solve the recent murder of a girl in the fields, as part of the larger serial killer murders, needs help with her case, pulling Brian and Mike into it whether they want to or not.
Texas Killing Fields surrounds itself in mystery. Two separate cases, the dead prostitute and the possible serial killer of the fields, leads the viewer on a ride filled with constant suspense with an incredibly dark tone. The addition of the young girl Anne, and her possible connection to the murders, keeps the questions flowing as the film plays out. As mystery thrillers go, Texas Killing Fields hits every mark, always hinting at possible suspects, leaving small clues along the way to decipher, and throwing in a twist at the end that you only partly saw coming. The greater cinch being the reality of the story, and knowing that while the killers may be found at the end the larger case of “The Texas Killing Fields” is never completely solved.
Texas Killing Fields chronicles a very small amount of time inside of a larger case–that case being the “Texas Killing Fields” as an area for dumping bodies. Given this the script falters in that it assumes too much on behalf of the viewer to be familiar with the field cases. Screenwriter Donald F. Ferrarone jumps right into the fields most recent case without providing enough backstory of the fields to make the viewer understand this is an ongoing investigation, and not the first murder or serial killer case. An intelligent viewer will easily be able to piece together the history of the fields with the small amount of information, but for someone not adept at having to conjecture for themselves it may prove confusing as the case of the prostitute coincides with the field murder. The alternating storylines of two murders plays well for the thriller angle, and with pitting Mike against Pam, as well as Brian’s conflicting feelings over what case to focus upon. It also improves the mystery and suspense that is built up around the two cases, but much gets lost in-between as the confusion mounts as to which case a detective is referring to, or working on at the moment becomes blurry.
Texas Killing Fields feels like a movie that is a part of a larger movie that has been cut together to only show a small snippet of time. It takes an extra amount of effort to keep everything straight the way the script is organized and how information is presented, making the script for Texas Killing Fields not as strong as the story it is based upon. What it has going for it is the continuing fascination with solving the mystery the story provides, helping to erase the mild frustrations that arise from the screenplay’s flawed structure.
Director Ami Canaan Mann’s second feature, Texas Killing Fields is in need of stronger direction for the actors. The film is full of talent, from Sam Worthington (Mike), Jessica Chastain (Pam), Chloe Grace Moretz (Anne), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Brian). The talent abounds in Texas Killing Fields, but the performances are hyped up to a level that makes situations unbelievable at times. For example, when arguments occur between Brian and Mike about the fields murder versus their own case of the murdered prostitute every word, sentence, emotion, is over-drawn and aggravated. The scenes feel more like a fight for power over who can be the loudest and most bombarding on the viewer than who can actually make a point in their argument. The over-the-top performances continue with Chastain’s Pam; making it clear she is a tough detective with something to prove can be easier accomplished than through uber-violence–this is not a television program, things can resonate greater on screen with subtlety. There is very little talking in Texas Killing Fields but a great deal of yelling, swearing, and aggression. Every character needs to be taken down a couple levels on their excitability, and quickly reeled in. Mann neglects to show control over the actor’s performances and in that respect the direction of the performances suffer, as does the film as a whole. Adding to this the indirectness of where the story is going from Ferrarone’s script and Texas Killing Fields has problems–good thing it is a great story.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ami Canaan Mann
- Producer(s): Donald F. Ferrarone
- Screenwriter(s): Sam Worthington (Mike Souder)Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Brian)Chloe Moritz (Anne Sliger)
- Story: Stephen Graham (Rhino)
- Cast: Annabeth Gish (Gwen Heigh)Jessica Chastain (Pam) Cindy MolloStuart DryburghAran Mann
- Cinematographer: Dickon Hinchliffe
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA