A feast for the eyes and ears – ★★★★
The overriding feeling you get from watching Ben Wheatley’s new film A Field in England is that you don’t really know what’s going on but by god it looks amazing. It should come with a warning that ear plugs may be needed and to leave logic at the door.
Laurie Rose has been involved with Ben for all his films and her cinematography here is faultless. The black and white tones make the rolling English countryside seem even more beautiful than her natural greens and browns. Ben takes his, by now characteristic, dark humour for another outing with one scene in particular turning the usual deathbed confession on its head. The film is dissected into many acts with the screen going black to return at times with the actors standing still as if posing for an artist’s easel.
Along with humour is Wheatley’s sense of the macabre and the ease at which he can switch from gruesome horror to unsettling mind games. When O’Neil (Michael Smiley) takes Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) into his tent to fashion him into a divining rod, the blood-curdling screams we hear coming from within conjure more horror than any image ever could. O’Neil and Whitehead are the main protagonists played expertly by Belfast man Smiley and the master of odd Shearsmith who people will recognise as Papa Lazarou from TV’s “The League of Gentlemen”.
They play a sort of ying and yang with Whitehead still loyally devoted to God, while O’Neil seeks his own path using what little science or borderline voodoo he possesses. I suppose at this point some ham-fisted attempt should be made to explain the story. Whitehead and two deserters flee the field of battle (sometime during the English Civil War) and happen upon another gentleman who means to use them for his own devices. Under the pretence of finding an inn for cold ale, the travellers are poisoned with wild mushrooms and somehow summon O’Neil who then uses them in search of hidden treasure.
Booming music, trippy visuals and dense dialogue means that this is one film that will lend itself to multiple viewings. With the subject matter one can only wonder if Ben is related to the classic horror writer Dennis Wheatley? Famous for occult novels such as his 1938 “The Devil Rides Out” which was turned into a film in 1967 starring Christopher Lee. That would be a fantastic future pairing – Wheatley and Lee.
Released in Ireland on July 5th 2013 at Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema