Friday, 5 July 2013

A Field in England


Back in 2010, Ben Wheatley split audiences with his second feature violent religious cult thriller Kill List (the first, comedy action 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 generic 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 to blasted back to the brazen scenes of 1940-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 character’s 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 trudged hero.
A Field in England was released today 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 on Video-on-Demand thanks to the partnerships of Film4, Picturehouse Entertainment, 4DVD and Film4 Channel. 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 feature film. Innovation applauds.

VERDICT: 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.

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