A Field In England Movie Review
DVD released by Channel 4 DVD
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Written by Amy Jump
2013, 91 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 15th July 2013
Michael Smiley as O'Neil
Reece Shearsmith as Whitehead
A Field in England was released on the 15th July and marks the first film to be released simultaneously on omnichannel media platforms, being available to viewers in UK cinemas and on Freeview TV, on DVD and Video-on-Demand thanks to the partnerships of Film4, Picturehouse Entertainment, 4DVD and the Film4 TV Channel. At HorrorTalk we normally divide review material out among the staff and go with one review of each title per territory (UK and USA, usually). In this instance we had three writers all depserate to give their opinions, such is the power of this film. So there was no fairer way to do it than to let all three put their views in writing:
Simon Bland (Cinema Screening) Review:
You could argue that Ben Wheatley’s brain-worm of a new film A Field In England has no place being reviewed on a site like this. After all, it’s not so much a traditional horror as a psychedelic trip, quasi-historical drama, blackest of black comedies or surreal nightmare. However, its inability to pin down is exactly what makes it worth chatting about. You may struggle deciding where to place it on your DVD shelf (somewhere between The Wicker Man and Eraserhead, perhaps?) but there’s enough chilling imagery here for you to whip it out come your next horror movie marathon.
Wheatley kicks things off with booming war drums as we tumble into the midst of a monochrome English Civil War battle. The brilliant Reece Shearsmith plays Whitehead, a cowardly astrologer who’s in the process of escaping both the gunfire and his disgruntled next in command. Having failed to locate a mysterious Irishman, he’s decided to do a runner and along with a fellow deserter heads off in search of the nearest pub, only to bump into two more stragglers in a nearby field. After an impromptu meal of field-found mushrooms the foursome set out on their way, abandoning all ties with reality back at camp.
Before long they discover a man tethered to a rope; an alchemist named O’Neil (Michael Smiley) who appears to be the Irishman Whitehead was trying to find. Simmering with a supernatural prowess, O’Neil talks of a treasure buried somewhere beneath the dirt and commands his newfound workforce to reluctantly retrieve it for him. As their search quickly descends into madness all the deserters manage to uncover is confusion, terror and death, painted on a black and white canvas and framed in twisted dioramas that wouldn’t look out of place in Raimi’s Book of The Dead.
Wheatley’s latest work is his most ambitious and rewarding. Its many possible interpretations and numerous slippery loose ends leave you craving repeat viewings. Meanwhile, its dark and disturbing undertones birth some unnerving imagery that’ll stick to your subconscious like glue. It also boasts a sequence that’s 90% more chilling than most mainstream horror. Fan of the macabre Shearsmith offers numerous stand-out moments during his stint as Whitehead, but it’s his otherworldly emergence from O’Neil’s tent following a barrage of hysterical screams that wins him the gold. Baffling and terrifying, it’s the moment you’ll be telling people about for weeks after.
Hot off last year’s manic Sightseers, it’s astounding that Wheatley hasn’t packed his bags for Hollywood already. It’s hard to imagine the offers aren't there. However with A Field In England’s roots so deeply set in traditional British horror, it’s comforting to see him sticking around our side of the pond. With this new one, he’s set a standard for smart UK horror that’ll be hard to beat. Wheatley's fascinating back catalogue may have had our curiosity, but now he has our attention.
Becky Roberts (Press Screening) Review:
Back in 2010, Ben Wheatley split audiences with his second feature, violent religious cult thriller Kill List (his first, comedy action film Down Terrace, stole hearts at Raindance Film Festival the year before). Catapulting him to the forefront of independent film, Wheatley and his long-time creative partner Amy Jump, have since plunged into cross-genre experimentation. Last year birthed their first cinematic film release with romping black comedy Sightseers, which follows a couple’s macabre murdering spree during their campervan holiday in Scotland, and now, the daring duo have experimented in yet another catastrophe in the countryside. This time we are blasted back to the brazen scenes of 1640-something England.
In the Civil War somewhere in the western hills of the country, four deserters manage to flee an explosive battle before being captured by an alchemist O’Neil (Michael Smiley) and his stooge Cutler. But when the unlikely captives are forced to help the overpowering duo in their hunt for the field’s hidden treasure, their first night’s mushroom meal causes an outburst of paranoia, irrationalism and hostility. The hunt for the treasure becomes misconstrued and before they know it, it’s the emerging entity of the field that overpowers their fears of war on the very playground itself.
Much like Kill List, first impressions wither on where to put it. It defies categorization, blending folk horror, comic adventure, war drama, and British western landscape. It rambles through a predominantly absent conventional story; its wildly disjointed set pieces lack continuity and the gore is uncharacteristically feeble considering its genre incorporation.
But that doesn’t matter. In fact, fans of Wheatley will contend this is the essence of its beauty. They would, of course, be spot on.
Once again the master of the unorthodox imagination has done what he does best - create a weird, wacky and wonderful world that unravels an enchanting journey and captures it through a kaleidoscopic lens. It’s an enthralling and boggling psychedelic ride into the deepest realms of madness, and the magic in his picture is evidently far from confined to the make up of the mushrooms. Anything can happen in this delirious vacuum - and the nonsensical musical interludes prove it.
Shot in black and white and rinsing the diversity of kooky camera framework, the beauty of each shot precedes the last. The rolling fields of Surrey provide the perfect backdrop for his characters’ hazy and empty provincial existence, and the shoddy costume efforts helps bring a refreshing portrait of grisly 17th century England to life. The audience is as exposed to and embraced by the field’s gritty entrapment as the characters, and the metaphoric images that particularly surround the abuse towards self-professed coward Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) and depict his agonizing pain and subconscious confusion only serve to add depth to the frenzy of the downtrodden hero.
Interlacing all the distorted elements of Kill List and Sightseers, and adding a new layer of historical relevance, A Field in England entertains with all its extremities and oddities.
Whether or not its distribution will be revolutionary or suffer from an overly concentrated experiment, it will remain an important project for the history books. It is also an internal landmark moment for the studio as it marks the first Film4.0 — simultaneous multi-format release — feature film. Innovation applauds.
Joel Harley (Blu-ray) Review:
There's something very English about a man pulling down his breeches and nipping off a massive poo in a field. The rest of the world's perception of us may involve cups of tea, social anxiety and Hugh Grant, but the reality is much more akin to the events and themes of Ben Wheatley's A Field in England. It's the story of four men on a quest to the pub. You don't get much more English than that.
Reece Shearsmith plays Whitehead, a cowardly astrologer fleeing the seventeenth century British Civil War. On the run, he encounters three other fleeing fellows, and together they resolve to head to the nearest ale house and wait for things to blow over. But as Shaun of the Dead proved, things are rarely so straightforward. After feasting upon an enormous pot of foraged mushrooms, the gang find Tyres from Spaced in a field – which is where the film gets really weird.
You lucky people, having A Field in England so easily available. The film is as notable for its simultaneous multi-platform release as it is for being really rather good. I picked it up on Blu-ray, as (having never seen a Ben Wheatley film I didn't like) it seemed to be a safe bet. I was doubly impressed by the casting, with Shearsmith and Michael Smiley headlining and The Mighty Boosh's Julian Barratt in a supporting role. While Barratt bows out far too early (but not before birthing my new favourite insult in the phrase “you obsequious little turd”) A Field in England is great fun for fans of Shearsmith. Seeing as Paul Andrew Williams' The Cottage is one of my favourite ever slasher movies, I was eager to see Shearsmith revisit the British horror scene. His performance here doesn't disappoint.
As the mushrooms begin to take effect and Smiley's demonic O'Neil exerts his hold upon the group, the film heads into weirder, darker territory. My favourite role by Shearsmith has to involve his squealing terror at being trapped in a room full of moths in The Cottage, but this is his best work as an actor so far. The others are very good too – most notably Richard Glover, who appeared in Wheatley's previous film, Sightseers (only my favourite film of 2013). His rendition of the English folk song Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament is tremendously haunting, and should stick with you long after the credits roll.
As should the rest of the film. It's effectively a classy version of Shrooms set in a field, but I enjoyed every moment of it. It's vulgar, violent and disturbing, with cinematography so trippy that the film has to be preceded by a warning for epileptics. There's no hiding the air of pretension that hangs over the film (and one can't but think that it seems, at times, like a very well cast student film) but somehow, that works in its favour. Others will hate it (and will do so very vocally) but I loved it. At the moment, Wheatley is batting four-for-four. I can't wait to see what this very promising, talented Brit filmmaker comes up with next.
As we watch the men trip out on magic mushrooms, shit in a field, piss all over one another and examine their genitals for signs of infection, I am reminded why I don't go to music festivals any more.
Video and Audio:
The whole thing is in black and white, but that shouldn't put you off. The English countryside has never looked so imposing. It sounds even better. Wheatley's sound direction is masterful – whether it be the folk music, deafening explosions or even two minutes of Reece Shearsmith screaming like a girl. It's worth a 5/5 for Lady Anne Bothwell's lament alone.
Over an hour of extras are included on the film's Blu-ray and DVD release. Well, how else are they going to convince you to buy the thing? Extras include a director's commentary, interview with Ben Wheatley and multiple 'making of' featurettes. Everything from the sound recording to the acting and location is covered, including two featurettes (Journey and Anatomy of a Scene) exclusive to Blu-ray. Other assorted extras include The Edit, The Practice of Magic, Influences, Recording the Sound, Location, Costume, Cinematography, Acting, Only Shadows, Scoring the Music, Time, Camera Test Reel and a trailer. You lucky people.
Want to comment on this review? You can leave one below or head over to the HorrorTalk Review Forum.