Ben Wheatley is a talent, there’s no doubt about that. His uncompromising, exciting and undeniably weird directorial style marks him out as one of the most talented and provocative British filmmakers working today. He’s worked in several genres – DOWN TERRACE was a gangster film, KILL LIST was a horror and SIGHTSEERS was a (sort-of) romantic comedy. He also always manages to get in some jet-black humour, plot twists, and no small amount of depravity. Wheatley’s latest effort, A FIELD IN ENGLAND, had all his hallmarks, but is presented in an unusual avant-garde style, and therefore you have to pay attention, and even then you might feel lost in this bleak expanse of English countryside.
The plot, such as it is (or perhaps isn’t) involves a battle in the English Civil War, from which a man (Reece Shearsmith) flees for his life, and because of a combined sense of guilt and duty, decides to complete a mission of justice his master commanded him to undertake. He falls in with three other deserters, and eventually tracks down the man he was tasked to capture (Michael Smiley). Beyond this, everything else that happens in A Field in England is open for debate.
What makes this film even more interesting is the way in which it was released – simultaneously in the cinema, on DVD and on Film 4. This perhaps demonstrates that Wheatley doesn’t have concerns of profit or ego here, rather that as many people as possible should see the film, and promote discussion of what happens within it.
There’s disturbing magic mushroom hallucinations, implications of occult or paranormal activity, and there may even be a bit of an existential debate going on somewhere in this arty stew-pot. Monochrome, minimal visuals and performance art turns by the actors leads one to suspect that this might have more impact on a gallery wall, though even on a small screen you’ll find it hard to look away.
It’s a hypnotically incomprehensible film, and though it’s a tough one to decipher, that’s part of the appeal. So few films released today actually make you stop and think, and then think again…and then still not get it. I’d be lying if I said I understood everything, even most of, what I saw in this odd, odd piece of visual expression. But I don’t really mind that – it’s a fascinating trip regardless, with standout performances from Shearsmith and Smiley, and it looks and sounds like nothing else. All this description is probably doing the film a disservice, so all I can say is that you should see it. See it and ponder. SSP