Ben Wheatley’s fourth film is further proof of his status as one of modern horror’s most exciting and original filmmakers.
Although civil war horror A Field in England is superficially unlike anything he’s done before, it’s definitely a Ben Wheatley film.
Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) was charged with finding the notorious alchemist O’Neil (Michael Smiley) before he deserted, so it’s with mixed feelings that he and his group of runaways stumbles into the Irish wizard’s path. O’Neil believes that Whitehead and holds the key to finding buried artefacts in a mushroom-covered field, but the increasingly delirious group may unearth more than gold.
A Field In England is a hugely impressive visual and auditory experience. The beautiful black and white photography is combined with a superb soundtrack to create a wonderfully ominous atmosphere. It’s his most stylistically experimental film to date: characters talk and sing directly into the camera, there are long shots of the actors holding still in their positions as if inviting judgement, and there’s a lengthy and hypnotic drug trip sequence.
It’s all deeply unsettling and tremendously effective; like a combination of Werner Herzog and Robin Hardy.
Smiley (Kill List) is a formidable presence as the preening alchemist but the film is stolen by Shearsmith, as his chracter’s early cowardice hides a dark potential, something the actor is very capable of playing. Admittedly, it’s very light on story and a couple of the scenes could have been trimmed.
Some may find the whole thing to be unnecessarily incomprehensible but Wheatley remains disinterested in giving easy answers. He’s a director who conjures atmosphere and A Field In England creates an incredibly strong sense of dread.
For all Wheatley’s experimenting with the cinematography and editing, A Field In England has a simple and effective premise. It’s pure folk horror: five men plundering and pulling at the soil of a country in turmoil, and the fruits of their labour will break them.
This is another excellent, challenging piece of work from a director who continues to push himself and his audience.
A Field in England is released in cinemas, on demand, and on DVD on 5th July. For more details on the multi-platform release go to www.afieldinengland.com