Starring: Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt
You may like this if you like: Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968), Pi (Darren Aronofsky, 1998), Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)
During the English Civil War a man by the name of Whitehead (Shearsmith) cowardly escapes the battle field and is joined by three men who themselves are also fleeing, one of which claims to know of a good ale house. As our group of misfits approach a field they are met by O’Neil (Smiley) a man who Whitehead has actually been sent to arrest, but who forces the group to search a field for an apparent treasure. However, after consuming the mushrooms that grow within the field, the group have experiences verging on psychedelic, paranoia and hallucination. Or at least the viewer certainly does.
Well, that is the sort of plot but trust me, it isn’t really important. Ben Wheatley’s previous two efforts for me were as much about the visuals and stylistic approach as plot. Well, A Field in England is pretty much all about the visuals. Shot in widescreen black and white, it is a bizarre and unique 90 minute head trip that is certainly hard to forget.
Shot with pretty much no budget, Wheatley has crafted an extremely atmospheric mood piece with some great performances and genuinely disturbing images. Shearsmith is perfectly suited to his role and gives a great performance with some of the scenes involving him screaming or off his face on mushrooms being genuinely disturbing and creepy. Jim Williams’ subtle and low key but effectively sinister and creepy score adds to the effective disconcerting overall feeling of dread.
However, for me great style and imagery can only go so far without any kind of substance in a feature length film. The fact is that there is no substance here at all. David Lynch is my favourite director so I do not have a problem with ‘unconventional’ plots that perhaps don’t quite make narrative sense but I thought A Field in England complacently feels it does not need to even try. I understand that it may well be more of a mood piece, but without any substance whatsoever a film has to be pretty special to be anything more than a 6/10 or three star film at best.
Wheatley and regular co writer (and wife) Amy Jump obviously have no idea how to end this film so decide to go for a generic and predictable shoot out which is a tad boring. I found Kill List to be style over substance and unfortunately so is A Field in England. Wheatley is obviously a very talented film maker with a great eye for effective visual flair, but perhaps should pay a little more attention to the actual substance of the piece and the initial screenplay. He is obviously so eager to get behind the camera that he wants to get the initial creative process before that over as quickly as possible. Both Kill List and A Field in England have basic and extremely clunky dialogue and so perhaps more effort on the initial screenplays are needed before he gets behind that camera.
A Field in England is an unashamedly unique and stylish mood piece with some genuinely disturbing and unforgettable images. It is definitely worth a watch, but a severe case of style over literally no substance.