Directed by: Ben Wheatley.
Written by: Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley.
Starring: Julian Barratt (Trower), Peter Ferdinando (Jacob), Richard Glover (Friend), Ryan Pope (Cutler), Reece Shearsmith (Whitehead), Michael Smiley (O'Neil).
If nothing else, A Field in England is at least one of the most accurately named movies I have ever seen. The entire movie is set in a field in England during the English Civil war. The film is about a group of deserters who decide to follow one man who says he knows of a pub nearby. They never make it to the pub – they never even make it out the damn field. Instead they are fed some sort of hallucinogenic mushrooms, and end up pulling on a rope for minutes on end, only to have a necromancer named O’Neil (Michael Smiley) appear, and force them into servitude in digging up a buried treasure of gold in the field. These men, who fled one sort of servitude are forced into another.
There isn’t much plot to speak of in A Field in England – not one that can really be explained anyway. Written by Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley – and directed by Wheatley – A Field in England makes no real attempt to be a coherent movie. It’s a riff on art films of the 1960s and 1970s – and not just any art films of the era, the ones that are best viewed at midnight while high. Much of the movie doesn’t make sense, but that is because Wheatley doesn’t really try to have it make sense. There is a scene of one man screaming in pain for what seems like minutes on end, but why he’s screaming is never explained. There is another scene where we do know why one of the characters is grunting in pain – and that’s because he’s trying, unsuccessfully, to shit.
The film opens with a warning about strobe effects and what effect they may have on epileptics. For much of the movie you wonder what the hell that warning was for. The film was shot in black & white, and is mostly handheld camera work. But the climax of the movie certainly earns that warning that we received at the beginning. I’m not sure what the point of that rapidly editing, strobe effect sequence was – but it fits in with the rest of the movie, which I also have no idea what the point was.
Ben Wheatley is a talented director. I loved Kill List – which is about different types of violence, as the film moves from kitchen sink drama to hit man action movie, to cult based horror film (an influence on that film, The Wicker Man, is clearly an influence on this one as well). Last year’s Sightseers was a pitch black comedy about a “romantic holiday” between two seemingly boring people approaching middle age who end up killing a whole lot of people. Both films, while very different from each other, showed Wheatley to be a gifted filmmaker.
I suppose A Field in England shows that as well. You have to kind of admire a film that so brazenly doesn’t give a shit about its audience – that is not a pre-packaged, pre-sold corporate product ready for mass consumption. And it must be said that many of the images in A Field in England are quite striking and memorable.
But does the whole thing mean anything? Does Wheatley have a point in any of this, or has he simply made the film to amuse himself? I’d be more forgiving if the film also amused me, but unfortunately it didn’t. I quickly grew restless while watching A Field in England, which I think is ultimately simply an exercise in style by Wheatley – a way to see if he could pull it off. In that, I think, he succeeded. This is precisely the film he wanted to make. I suspect that if you’ve made it this far into the review you know if the film is for you or not. Either way, you’re probably right.