by Laurence Boyce
- Ben Wheatley’s newest film, Special Jury Prize in the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Competition, is a dark and twisted examination of English history and human terror.
With his burgeoning reputation as one of the UK’s most talented genre directors, Ben Wheatley is renowned for creating atmospheric horror films that rely on mood as much as narrative. His latest film, A Field In England [+see also:
interview: Ben Wheatley
film profile], is no different as it blends a story of the English Civil War – perhaps one of the most crucial events in English history – with a surreal final half full of strange and disturbing imagery and a scant regard for the comprehensible.
Reece Shearsmith plays Whitehead, an alchemist who flees from his master. In the midst of the Civil War he is taken hostage by a man named Cutler who proceeds to drug Whitehead and two other hostages. It soon transpires that they must help him and a mysterious Irishman named O’Neill (Michael Smiley, a frequent collaborator of Wheatley’s) find buried treasure. Soon they are fed hallucinogenics and things take an even more threatening air.
With a budget of £300,000 this is stripped back and raw filmmaking, shot in crisp black and white. Influenced by the likes of Peter Watkins’ Culloden, the film does not shirk from the brutality of the era. Nor is it forgiving in its portrayal of the protagonists as the mushrooms they consume begin to have an effect: a miasma of cinematic tricks, fast cutting and off-kilter imagery will test even the most hardy of cineastes. Yet the great gift of Wheatley is his refusal to spoonfeed his audience and the impenetrableness of the film is – along with the strong visual style – one of its great strengths. Creating a tangible sense of dread and terror, the film is ‘experience cinema’.
Just released in the UK via a unique multiplatform release – screening theatrically, on DVD and VOD and on free television the same day – the film would appeal internationally to genre fans and Wheatley’s reputation has garnered him a large cult following. The archaic language and broad accents might be a little too much for some, but it’s not as if understanding the dialogue fully will give a greater understanding of the film as a whole.