Monday, July 07, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—A Field in England (2014) ***

NR, 90 min.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump
Starring: Julian Barrett, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Ryan Pope
Voice: Sara Dee

“A Field in England” is one of those movies that is probably enhanced by watching under the influence of a serious hallucinogen. It’s shot in black & white so your mind can fill in the colors. That being said, it also takes place in a setting that seems very non-psychedelic. It takes place amid the Civil War in 17th Century England. Before this film I knew nothing of any Civil War in England in the 17th Century, and now I still don’t. I think the setting probably has some significance that would be lost on most Americans, myself included, but it is of little importance when all is said and done.

Coming from the minds of writer Amy Jump and director Ben Wheatley, its strange nature comes as little surprise. They are the filmmaking pair that brought us last year’s sublimely dark comedy “Sightseers” about a couple that turns to serial killing during a sightseeing trip through some of the blandest locations in England. They also are responsible for the surprising thriller “Kill List” and Wheatley gave us the caustic crime family comedy “Down Terrace”. All of these films are pure originals and “A Field in England” joins Wheatley’s growing list of films like none others you’ve seen.

It follows a group of soldiers who go AWOL from the front lines of the battlefield. Their escape from battle is hardly four acts of whim, however, as it turns out one of them has an agenda spearheaded by another man, played by Wheatley regular Michael Smiley, who joins them in a rather unusual manner. I believe this man is the devil, although it is never said outright. Another man appears to be a coward, but he also seems to have a stronger religious core than the rest. But maybe I’m reading into that too much. I don’t really know. Again, some heavy drugs might help with opening the audience’s minds to interpretation.

I can’t say that “A Field in England” is quite as wonderful as Wheatley’s other treasures, but it is certainly interesting and probably his most original vision. It will play well to those who have embraced Wheatley’s dark nature, and it contains some of his most stunning photography to date despite the fact that the whole film seems contained within a very confined location. Even the battle scenes at the beginning of the film appear to be shot along the same hedgerow of the field in which the men camp out for most of the story. There’s a theme of redemption and salvation hidden at the end the film’s dark and mind-scrambling core of apparent damnation. It reminded me a good deal of the original “The Wicker Man” in that sense.

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