Saturday, 6 July 2013

From the twisted mind that brought us Kill List and Sightseers, Ben Wheatley’s latest film, A Field in England, follows a group of English Civil War deserters as they walk around a field. Coming from Lancashire, I’ve seen a lot of fields, and the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in one was being intimidated by an inquisitive cow. Oh, and that time I saw some horses doing something I’d rather not see horses doing. But, this particular field being a field in a Ben Wheatley story, events soon become gruesomely heightened, as the deserters are forced into conflict with each other via a search for buried treasure and a dinner of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

This is, by far, Wheatley’s most experimental film yet. In black and white, with a restricted setting and a mix of archaic and familiar dialects, it’s a world like no other, a world open to interpretation. Wheatley uses surreal editing and camerawork to conjure up an engrossingly disturbing atmosphere. While A Field in England may be a little difficult to get into at first, don’t be put off – I found myself gripped once I started to get my head around this otherworldliness. The surreality comes to a climax when Reece Shearsmith’s Whitehead eats more than his fair share of mushrooms and the film starts to simulate his trip, distorting and mirroring its images, cutting back and forth at epileptic speeds and blasting the field with a vicious wind.

Though the real star of the film is Wheatley, Shearsmith is a perfect leading man, bringing a gothic feel to the role and lending his comedic talent to the script's morbid wit. I would have liked is a little more of this comedy, particularly towards the slow start of the film, when more laughs would have built more of an immediate connection to the characters and smoothed the fall into the bizarreness to come.

Because of its abundance of this very wit, Sightseers remains the Ben Wheatley film I've liked most, but A Field In England isn't one I'll forget any time soon. It’s one that, even if I didn't love every moment on screen, will stand up to, and be improved by, rewatches. A vividly bizarre, macabre, and complex film.

Another interesting point of discussion regarding A Field in England is the distribution strategy; on the same day, it was released in cinemas, on DVD, and screened on Film4. I’ll be looking out for reports on how this has gone, but I don’t imagine the cinema ticket sales will have suffered much from what they would have been otherwise. We’re living in a world of increasing consumer choice – if you don’t want to pay to go to the cinema, you can watch a film on TV, download one from Netflix, or – shock, horror – pirate the film you would be seeing in the cinema. A Field in England is an interesting experiment in distributors offering the choice, upon release, of different legal viewing experiences – perhaps a strategy that will combat the issue of piracy, definitely a strategy that will get more people watching new films. I can imagine a lot more films being released this way in the future, though maybe going into people’s homes through pay-per-view services rather than scheduled TV screenings. However those staying at home choose to watch films, though, there will always be those willing to pay for the cinematic experience. It ain’t going anywhere.


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