[A FIELD IN ENGLAND screens Thursday May 8th at 8:55 pm and Friday May 9th at 9:20 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
A minimalist head trip of a film, director Ben Wheatley's A FIELD IN ENGLAND (from a screenplay by Amy Jump) would probably have found a respectable audience back in the days when EL TOPO and ERASHERHEAD were kings of the midnight movie circuit. Like Wheatley's other films, for lack of a better term it's being referred to as a horror film by many. It certainly has aspects of that genre, but it's also part historical drama, part lowbrow comedy, and part metaphysical puzzle. It's the kind of movie where a plot synopsis can't do much justice to the work, but we'll give it a shot anyway.
Set during the British Civil War of the 17th century, FIELD follows a group of deserters from both sides of the conflict as they make their way through the titular locale. The band consists of Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), an alchemist's assistant on a mission to retrieve some property stolen from his master, brusque soldier Cutler (Ryan Pope), simpleton Friend (Richard Glover), and the somewhat sketchy Jacob (Peter Ferdinando).
Eventually the travelers find some mushrooms growing and, except for Whitehead, decide to eat them. Near the fungi is a post with a rope attached to it, and with most of the group well out of their heads, they pull on it until they manage to yank O'neil (Michael Smiley) into view. O'Neil happens to be the man Whitehead was sent to find, but with Cutler on his side, it is O'Neil who winds up in control. He then forces the group of misfits to start digging a hole where some kind of treasure is supposed to be buried, with Cutler standing guard. Strange forces seem to be at work, though, and whether that's merely the result of everyone tripping on mushrooms or some sort of magic remains to be seen. Either way, the group is soon fighting amongst themselves, and the field may well be a graveyard for some if not all of them.
Like the best midnight movies, you don't watch A FIELD IN ENGLAND, you experience it. And if you're expecting to walk away from that experience with a full understanding after only one viewing, you are destined for disappointment. There is a resolution of sorts, but it is by no means a straightforward one. Even though I'm not sure exactly what it all meant, I still found myself completely enthralled by Wheatley's hallucinatory vision. Others may well be utterly pissed off that they watched a bunch of dirty, scruffy guys walk around in the grass and fight each other while tripping for 90 minutes. 3 out of 4 stars.