Tuesday 9 July 2013

Film Review: 'A Field In England'

Dir: Ben Wheatley 

The 5th July 2013 has proven to be one of the most interesting dates in British film history. Not only due to the nature of the film that premièred on that date, but also the manner of its unveiling.
Shot in black and white for a low budget and in just twelve short days, from the beginning this was shaping up to be a unique prospect for this day and age. But as experimental as the film is in its execution, it is also the subject of one of the most interesting releases in recent cinema history. Available in cinemas, on DVD, TV and on demand video all on the same day, the film has ensured the maximum amount of exposure that any low-budget indie film could dream of.

The film is a product of the imaginations of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump, which brought the world films such as 'Kill List' [2011] and 'Sightseers' [2012]. 'A Field In England' is a psychedelic folk horror that recalls the likes of 'Blood On Satan's Claw', 'Witch Finder General' and 'The Wicker Man' imbibed with the claustrophobia of Hitchcock and the surrealism of Jodorowsky.

As in his previous films, Wheatley sets the film up neatly in the trappings of one genre before quickly turning it on its head. Primarily a historical thriller set during the English Civil War, we see a group of deserters come together seemingly by chance as they flee from the carnage of a battle that remains off screen. As the band travel together they become increasingly dragged into a world off surreal occult horror perpetrated upon them by the sinister alchemist O'Neil [Michael Smiley] and his sidekick Cutler [Ryan Pope].

One of the first things noticeable in the film is its delectable dialogue. The opening tirade of language courtesy of Julian Barrett’s [The Mighty Boosh] brief appearance is steeped in the Shakespearean. Indeed as a result the cast of players within the film endow their characters with the air of tragic fools such as Sir John Falstaff and his company in 'Henry IV Part 1 & 2'. With the foul mouthed Jacob [Peter Ferdinando] and the soft but witty Friend [Richard Glover] evoking the reoccurring characteristics of the fool with great effect.

The monochrome scenery, rapid cuts and use of slow motion distort the time and space around them, and the motion of the field and close-ups of the insects in it give the very space the characters inhabit its own sense of consciousness. While the cuts to the characters, frozen in gesture as though posing for a painting heightens the sense that they lack control once within the grasp of the mushroom circle.

The two most stunning visual set pieces in the film come courtesy of Whitehead [Reece Shearsmith] as he is led into the O'Neil's tent and emits harrowing screams before emerging with a foul grimace in slow motion. The second is in the psychedelic madness that ensues as the characters try to free themselves from O'Neil. Cross-cut footage, mirroring and stroboscopic effects heightened by the brilliant Jim Williams soundtrack create a very effective and disorientating nightmarish feeling.

There are a lot of thematic influences vying for attention in the film's elusive script and style, and as a result it may at times come across as a little clumsy. But it is beautifully constructed and ultimately endearing. Perhaps because it is so quintessentially English and at times genuinely disturbing, that it's more baffling eccentricities remain quite enjoyable. This film will no doubt divide public opinion due to its unfettered strangeness. But nonetheless, cult status awaits it with open arms.

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