A Field in England – Review
Ben Wheately isn’t known for making simple, textbook films; he combines violence and surrealism, along with a huge sense of ambiguity surrounding the majority of his films, the end result usually means you’re left with more questions than answers. But that’s who Ben Wheately is, he leaves it up to you as the viewer to decide the meaning behind the film, it may not be right (as he’s stated that no one has truly understood ‘Kill List’ (2011) as of yet), but you’ve looked into it, and you’ve come to your own conclusion, and sharing your own views on the film with others is just as fun as the film itself.
‘A Field in England’ is the first film to be released everywhere at the same time; DVD/Blu-ray, VoD, Cinema’s and even on Film4 for free. I always like to support new ideas, so as well as buying the DVD and recording it on Film4, I also went along to the Q&A screening of the film. Ben Wheately, being Ben Wheately, obviously didn’t give us much A’s despite being left with a lot of Q’s, but again, he likes to leave it up to the viewers to decide. It was also comforting to hear the cast reassure us that the film gradually makes more sense the more you watch it; for them it was after the third time they started to understand, and that’s the cast speaking.
It’s England, 1648 AD: Fleeing for their lives, a small party abandon a raging battle, through an overgrown field. They are captured by two men, O’Neil (Wheately regular, Michael Smiley), an alchemist and Cutler (Ryan Pope). The group are forced to aid the two in a search for hidden treasure, which is believed to be buried in the field. They come across a vast mushroom circle, picking the mushrooms and using them for their first meal, the group start to descend into madness, paranoia and chaos.
It’s tough to write about ‘A Field in England’, because it’s hard to describe what you have just seen. But what I can comment on is the visuals. Filmed in B&W, the visuals offer us a feel of this dark Civil War era, accompanied by extreme close-ups; we are pulled into the insane effects of the mushroom circle. It’s the haunting, yet alluring, cinematography that keeps the film flowing. Along with the cinematography, it wouldn’t be a Ben Wheately film without his violence would it? There isn’t much, but when there is a chance to fit in some glorified violence, it looks brilliant and painful, often making the audience flinch and turn away in disgust.
If you’ve seen ‘Kill List’, you will remember the scene when Jay (Neil Maskell) finds the collection of homemade snuff videos. He puts on one of the tapes and all we hear is a scream that could be an animal, child or a woman; the only thing we see as the audience is Jay’s horrific reaction, and that’s enough to give anyone sleepless nights. Much like the snuff scene in ‘Kill List’, there is a moment shrouded with so much mystery; the only glimpse we get is the demonic face of Reece Shearsmith’s characters, Whitehead, as he emerges from O’Niel’s tent. A man that has been subjected to so much suffering and pain, it seems that all that is left is a demented animal in the shell of a human being; what was he subjected to? We don’t know. All we can ask is “What happened in that tent?”
Is ‘A Field in England’a horror? Well, that can be debated, but the end result is one big trip into the insanity of the human psyche, and sometimes, there is nothing scarier than the loss of control; a descent into madness. After a conclusion that feels much like a western stand-off, there is something familiar in this field; someone who would be proud of wheately’s work, that person being Jodorowsky. With all the glorified violence, the dream-like imagery and the overall insanity of the whole film, it’s hard not to see the tiniest strand of Jodorowsky’s DNA. The film itself is often too confusing for its own good, which will make some people hate it, but surprisingly for me, it’s that confusion and mystery that keeps me hooked and makes me love the film. The only advice I can give to you is: be prepared to watch this numerous times, be prepared to be confused and as Wheately said at the Q&A “It’s pretty fucking mad, don’t watch it on drugs”. ‘A Field in England’ is one big, surreal nightmare; it is also a trip you don’t want to miss.
Follow Bill on Twitter: @2FlashGordon7