February 7, 2014
Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Julian Barratt as Trower
Peter Ferdinando as Jacob
Richard Glover as Friend
Reece Shearsmith as Whitehead
Michael Smiley as O’Neil
I don’t think for one single second that new breed standout director, Ben Wheatley intended to appeal to the sober mind when he directed the psychedelic genre piece, A Field in England. I think he had a vision himself, and that vision included throngs of pro-hallucinogenic film fans lined up outside of theaters in the UK, greedy for an atypical pic destined to cater to the passionate user, specifically. And you know what, I applaud Ben, if he did in fact experience that notion. Because he actually managed to put together a film truly faithful to the affects users experience while under the influence of hallucinogens, all the while simultaneously stirring a palpable fear in the belly. It’s a nice combo.
But understand this: A Field in England isn’t supposed to be a paralyzing picture. It’s supposed (this is really just what I take away from the feature) to be a production that is so eclectic, yet dark in nature with a skeletal hand pointed at the abuser that it can be perceived as a truly frightening film. And it really does come together to create that affect. I’m in my mid-30s, and while my insane days have passed, for the most part, I’ve done more than my fair share of exploring with some things I probably shouldn’t have. This flick nails the essence and feels like a really fun but freaky time warp. I’ll tell you right now, plain and simple: I wish A Field in England had seen release in the mid-90s while maintaining its period qualities. Boy would that have tripped me out… it may very well have slipped right into a favorite slot, because it would’ve perfectly for this specific viewer. But it works today, regardless.
Now, while the movie isn’t designed to leave you tangling with nightmares, it is designed to gross the viewer out, and it is definitely designed to leave us truly uncomfortable. It’s creepy as shit in key moments. And furthermore, this tale of English Civil War rogues is really, really graphically jarring. There’s one sequence in which a man gets his face blown right off, and it’s disgusting. Whether or not you’re drawn to stimulating visuals laced with blood, bone and cartilage may alter your opinion of the film. If you’re queasy, stay away from this, because it may be a few levels too intense for your taste.
As for the story itself, it’s a relatively simple piece, once you look beyond the intoxicating layers. One man is on a mission to apprehend a notorious thief. A few others are war deserters. When the lot come together, things get interesting. Before long, the thief being pursued is encountered, but he’s not your typical criminal. He’s got presence, and he uses it. In no time at all O’Neill, our thief, is ordering around the lot, demanding that his very own tracker use his talents to locate a treasure rumored to be buried in the field in which they all stand. It’s an intense, often humorous and always awkward descent into madness for everyone from this point forth. The men have consumed wild mushrooms, triggering their constant hallucinations, some turn on each other, patience begins to wear thin among the entire lot and suddenly, bodies are hitting the dirt.
Wheatley has created another awesome flick. While more nonconformist and certainly more nonfigurative than his other pics (which themselves tend to step beyond the bounds of normalcy), A Field in England proves to be a strangely addictive film. And there are so many ways in which to construe the feature that it stands to draw a larger demographic than one may believe at first glance. Potentially, there’s something here for just about everyone. The lone constant on display is Wheatley’s knack for cool camera angles and enticing editing. As is the usual, he also summons some wicked, wicked performances from his cast. The scope of A Field in England is generally rather small, but it’s such an imaginative piece of film that it feels quite grand.
Ben Wheatley, it must be said, is still the young directorial pride of the UK. To realize that this guy is really just greasing the wheels is baffling. The best is yet to come, but the material available to consumers as it stands is already superb. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Ben Wheatley puts a picture out, you go. You do yourself a proper justice, and watch that beast. It’s damn near guaranteed to please.