Genre: Historical, Drama
UK Release Date: 5th July 2013
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump
Starring: Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope, Julian Barratt
Synopsis: A cowardly deserter from the English Civil War is plunged into a world of hallucinogenic madness and paranoia when he meets a group of travellers.
Ben Wheatley is a director who refuses to be put in a box. His 2009 debut Down Terrace was a moody, darkly comic crime thriller that defied kitchen sink conventions. The enigmatic follow-up Kill List swerved between crime and horror, whilst third feature Sightseers was equal parts road movie, violent horror flick and broad comedy. A Field in England might be his most genre-defying film yet, and it’s certainly one of his best.
Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) runs away from an English Civil War battle when his master (Julian Barratt) is killed. He soon meets Jacob (Peter Ferdinando), his hapless assistant Friend (Richard Glover) and the sinister Cutler (Ryan Pope), who proposes walking to a nearby alehouse. On the way, a hallucinogenic mushroom trip leads them to crazed Irishman O’Neill (Michael Smiley) and a whole host of weirdness.
Most of the publicity around A Field in England focused on its innovative release strategy. Simultaneous release in cinemas, on TV, on disc and on demand has certainly given the film more exposure than it otherwise would’ve got and essentially solved the marketing conundrum the film presents. It’s too strange to sell – too surreal to fit into any pre-defined genre.
It’s a bizarre film from the start, quickly pulling the audience away from the carnage of civil war battles and into the vast emptiness of the titular field. From that point on, there isn’t really much plot to speak of, but that proves largely irrelevant.
The glacial pace, Laurie Rose’s jaw-dropping black and white cinematography and one of the most oppressive soundtracks in years all combine to create an unsettling, unpredictable feel to A Field in England. It doesn’t just take its characters on a hallucinogenic trip; it takes the audience too.
Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley are the stand-out performers, with one particular moment featuring psychological torture against Shearsmith leading to one of the scariest slow motion walks ever committed to celluloid. It is his character that anchors the drama, at least briefly, before he too is condemned to insanity.
It could be argued that A Field in England is too strange and surreal to actually be enjoyable. However, like David Lynch’s masterful Eraserhead, this is surrealism that takes the audience on a creepy ride into the auteur’s imagination. At a time of year when huge blockbuster films like Man of Steel and Pacific Rim are filling multiplex screens, it’s heartening to see a film that scrambles the mind as much as this does.
When the credits roll, it’s difficult to know how to feel or to even understand what has just happened. But one thing’s for sure: this is a psychedelic thrill ride that sticks in the mind.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.