A Field in England (2013)
One can deduce the decidedly plain warning issued at the beginning of the film as mere tactics, even go as far as to mock its triviality, but cinephile or not… you truly have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England” is a hallucinogenic, achromatic, and visceral yarn. A pulsating thriller oozing with disturbing content and vivid, genuinely stomach-churning visuals. However, Wheatley’s third film in as many years isn’t all observation and no substance, far from it. A viewer’s opinion regarding what took place in “A Field in England” and what it all meant is a lot like a snowlike…as in no two are alike… The film’s extremely diverse influences and varying motivations are what make it like no other film you’ve ever experienced. There isn’t much viewers will agree upon after watching “A Field in England” except that Ben Wheatley is indeed the most intriguing, terrifying filmmaker in cinema today.
During the English Civil War in the 17th century, Whitehead (Shearsmith) flees from the battlefield and his strict master. Down in the dirt, he meet Cutler (Pope) who is holding two travellers captive, Jacob (Ferdinando) and Friend (Glover). Upon being abducted by Cutler as well, Whitehead and the group journey across a field to find O’Neill (Smiley). Having Found O’Neill, the group is forced to help him and Cutler find a treasure buried somewhere in the field. Being subdued by hallucinogenic mushrooms and forced to work, the group soon begins to succumb to their own thoughts and mental instability.
“A Field in England’s” obscurity and surrealistic texture evoke an array of mental and physical reactions that more often than not feel brought on subliminally and are best left uncontrolled. It’s a complex blend of dark humour, thought-provoking characters, and brash imagery that result in a mystifying adventure that isn’t for the faint of heart. Never has a film generated such an unsettling, yet resplendent contrast full of infuriating, dynamic, and poetic sequences that are enough to drive one insane for the film’s entirety. Not only does “A Field in England” render the viewer helpless throughout, it lingers, almost unwelcome until you’re able to comprehend and conclude. It’s thick, tonal consistency, horrific mood, and unbearably trippy scenes are so vibrant, entrancing, and unnerving, it’s tough to label it within a single genre or anything known to man.
Driven by the bonds formed amongst the shady individuals who each search and yearn for a fortuitous intervention they have no legitimate reason to believe exists, whether it’s buried treasure or religion. “A Field in England” is a taut character study that doubles as a hypnotic allegory at the beginning of the western world. Whether you chose to look at it from a certain perspective or not is entirely at your discretion. Seeing as the film has en endless amount of interpretations, each valid take is as valuable as the next. I’ve yet to come across any two individuals who’ve witnessed the film and agree on an explanation. Treading somewhere between folklore, socio-political, and historical relevance. “A Field in England” is an intricate mishmash of importance and insignificance. To be honest, I’ve still not made up my mind as to what I think this film is about, perhaps I never will. I’ve watched it a few times now and I love the fact that I’m constantly dissecting, analyzing, and surmising.
Aside from the film’s obvious abstractness, it’s refreshing to see Wheatley step out of his comfort zone. While his initial releases seemed to be centred more or less in his genre wheelhouse. “A Field in England” is Wheatley at his most unrestrained and brilliantly showcases his growth. Without question, this is his most controversial and complete offering to date. While it may not be as decidedly vicious or magnificently gory as his previous offerings. “A Field in England” is much more psychologically perplexing, dramatically sensational, and is a visual feast unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And of course it contains some Wheatley trademarks such as excessively detailed gore, genuinely disturbing sequences, and utterly compelling characters. In my opinion, Wheatley’s work both behind the camera and on paper has never been better.
While “A Field in England” is sure to be memorable for its stroboscopic, symmetrical, bizarre hallucinogenic trips, in addition to truly frightening scenes such as Whitehead emerging from the tent and so on. The performances of “A Field in England’s” entire ensemble are equally mind-blowing. Which kind of makes the entire film satirically ironic. As striking and monumental as the film is, there is a small part of me that wishes I could forget it. Starring Michael Smiley, Reece Shearsmith, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover, and Peter Ferdinando. “A Field in England” finds itself a cast who are up to the task of heading into the farthest reaches of their psyches, not knowing if they will return.
Without question, Shearsmith’s performance is phenomenal, from start to finish. Although, from the get go, Shearsmith dives head first into chaos and compassion, he ascends slowly to a gradual realization of this world’s true intentions. A ghostly, unbalanced, nerve-grinding portrayal that is not to be missed. Richard Glover does a fantastic job providing comic relief. However, his dramatic moments are something to marvel, honestly atmospheric. Michael Smiley gives a truly haunting portrayal of a stoic antagonist filled with all the wrong intentions and hateful greed. Ryan Pope is intimidating to say the least, and while it may not last, it trails off into something better. As for Peter Ferdinando, I feel he garners the least notice, but deserves better. His role is severely important and the performance he infuses into it is nothing short of spectacular.
Disturbing, beautiful, and down-right insane. Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England” is an acquired taste and a must see. And although I highly recommend it, odds are more than a few of you will dislike it, but a majority of you will despite it, along with me as well.
A Field in England: 8.5 out of 10.