Hey guys! Horrorella here...
Ben Wheatley is quickly establishing himself as a filmmaker with a fascinating body of work. His films thus far are all pieces that are decidedly his, offering a very direct look into the story at hand, yet drastically different from one another. KILL LIST fell squarely into the horror/thriller column. SIGHTSEERS was a strange, twisted, yet understated comedy. His work always carries a certain darkness, but it’s impossible to predict exactly what form it will take.
In A FIELD IN ENGLAND, the darkness takes center stage, but is joined by a multitude of other characteristics that make the film rather difficult to qualify. Part psychological thriller, part art-house piece, part psychedelic fever dream, part philosophical meditation, part gothic horror, part surreal nightmare - this entry is certainly his most ambitious to date, and will likely be the one that most divides audiences. The film asks a lot of its viewers, and will certainly not be for everyone. But there is no denying that it is quite an achievement, and an interesting step forward for Wheatley as a filmmaker.
The film follows an alchemist's assistant (Reece Shearsmith) and a handful of other soldiers as they abandon the front during the English Civil War. They make their way through an open field, only to find themselves at the hands of a mysterious and powerful figure known only as O’Neil (Michael Smiley), who forces them to assist him in locating a treasure he believes to be buried somewhere in the field. During the process, several of them consume some local mushrooms, and, well, things start to get a little strange...
In this film, Wheatley utilizes both sight and sound as aids to his story, offering scenes and moments that rely heavily on the senses rather than on the narrative. These sequences evoke memorable moments from the minds of the likes of Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch. They take the audience to a very surreal headspace that carries with it an almost nightmarish quality that simultaneously overwhelms and entrances. It absolutely benefits from being seen on the big screen and with a kick-ass sound system, if at all possible.
The visuals are strikingly beautiful. The stark black and white cinematography offers a subtle and simplistic approach that is countered by the strange and enthralling imagery that takes hold as the story unfolds. Kaleidoscopic images, strobe techniques and even staged placement of the actors within a shot (resembling a painting) add to the strange, dreamlike and otherworldly qualities the film projects.
A FIELD IN ENGLAND is not as clear a story as what we have seen from Wheatley before, and unpacking the meaning is something of a challenge (definitely not a bad thing). This film isn’t as plot-driven as KILL LIST. Nor is it as character-driven as SIGHTSEERS. It is something else entirely - something far more basic and instinctive, choosing to operate behind the curtain, rather than in front of it.
A FIELD IN ENGLAND is definitely something to check out - if you are a fan of Wheatley’s other works, or simple a cinephile eager for something a bit different. The joy in this film isn’t found in plot or a grand sweeping statement at the end - it’s in the experience of viewing it. Of taking it in, and letting it work its own brand of dark magic. It’s hypnotic, it’s raw, it’s relentless and it’s absolutely enthralling. Wheatley has certainly stepped into new territory on this project, and it is exciting to watch it unfold.