02nd Jul2013

‘A Field In England’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt, Reece Shearsmith, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Sara Dee, Richard Glover | Written by Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump | Directed by Ben Wheatley

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A Field In England, prolific low-budget and lo-fi filmmaker Ben Wheatley’s latest effort, continues the original and highly distinctive work he’s made thus far but pushes past boundaries and expectations to create a brilliantly psychotic burst of filmmaking which feels like it’s ventured forth from a parallel universe version of the 1960s.

With a budget of £300,000 and a shoot lasting 12 days, it’s rather incredible the finished film feels so perfectly polished but helped some fantastic cinematography from Laurie Rose and great sound design and music by Martin Pavey and Jim Williams respectively, the film takes top hold of the throat from the off with the sounds of war invading the soundscape and percussive score belying the budget and evoking filly the chaos and carnage of the situation.

The film does indeed start at a bit of a gallop but quickly slows down to become a character piece, where four disparate men come together in a common purpose of leaving a war with Reece Shearsmith’s Whitehead becoming the increasingly dark heart of the film, a religious man who undergoes a painful, at times frankly terrifying transition into something very different. Shearsmith’s gleeful abandon in making himself look horrific pays great dividends, one slow motion sequence seeks him emerge from a tent after being tortured with a face in a contorted pain/pleasure configuration, which brought to mind Chris Cunningham’s work with Aphex Twin and is one of the standout moments in a film packed with many.

Being a film where the food of choice is magic mushrooms, there’s also little surprise that a drug fuelled mania takes hold at some stage and barely lets go for the rest of the runtime, starting with what, along with James Franco’s “Look At All My Shit” monologue in Spring Breakers, is likely to be my defining cinematic moment of 2013. An assemblage of harsh strobing imagery, shots melded with mirrored perspectives and frenzied editing by Wheatley and Amy Jump, it perfectly encapsulates the “down the rabbit hole” approach of the last act which manages to be strikingly surreal yet still retains a coherent age which ensures that unlike other films of a similar feel, it doesn’t completely crawl up at its own arse.

Also helping is the fact that you do want to see where the characters end up on this journey (whether the journey is actually a journey or not). Richard Glover plays a similar sort of nice guy stuck in over as head as he did in Sightseers, though here markedly dumber, and gives us some great comic relief while also being a sounding board to the other characters allowing them to open themselves up. Peter Ferdinando’s character also undergoes an interesting transformation starting off as almost the antagonist of the group but allowing himself to get warmer with Glover’s character especially as the madness surrounding them begins to overwhelm them both, his man of the world performance becoming something more restrained but never feeling artificial. Ryan Pope makes the least impression out of any of the main cast (Julian Barratt is included in the cast credits at the start but virtually has a blink and you’ll miss in role) though his character is essentially a go-between for the two opposing forces at work throughout the runtime and so this isn’t too much of a surprise. Making his presence felt in one of the strangest character introductions in quite some time though is Michael Smiley, a Ben Wheatley regular who really gets his teeth into a deliciously dark bad guy role here. His O’Neill is a man of a single purpose and he never loses sight of this goal despite copious amounts of sometimes inadvertent drugtaking around him. His darkness infects Reece Shearsmith’s character and has great fun in playing this. He also hits people fantastically well.

While A Field In England obviously wouldn’t have much of a life in the cinema, the film is too downright odd for that, the ability for film fans to  see the film almost in unison on the same channel at the same time feels appropriate this film. It is an effort which is technically impressive, very well performed by a game cast and with a bizarre mixture of horror and dark comedy which will hopefully be remembered for a good while to come. If you don’t see it this Friday, and you barely have an excuse not to, you’re a fool.

***** 5/5

A Field In England plays in selected cinemas, is available on VOD, on Blu-Ray and DVD *and* shows on Film4 at 22:45, all from this Friday (5th July).

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