A Field in England (2013)

*. I’d been looking forward to this.
*. I had the sense that Amy Jump’s script might have been OK. Unfortunately, that’s only a sense because (1) director Ben Wheatley jazzes things up inordinately, perhaps feeling he had to overcompensate for the fact that this is a black-and-white art house film set entirely in a field in England, and (2) I wasn’t paying as close attention as I probably should have at the end, since the movie lost me halfway through.
*. Or maybe the script was no good to begin with. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with Peter Debruge’s take on the movie in Variety, where he called it “both testament to Wheatley’s imagination-teasing ingenuity . . . and byproduct of a startling lapse in basic storytelling competence.” As clever as it all seems “a gaping vacuum still looms where conventional narrative might go.”
*. Given that I had trouble making out much of the dialogue perhaps I should just pass on the matter of the script altogether. I mean, I’m not sure what was going on. As Mark Kermode put it, “the plot is elusive.” Sometime during the English Civil War a weirdo who may be a wizard shanghais a group of soldiers into digging a hole in a field in a search for treasure. They don’t find anything and fall out and nearly everyone gets killed. Maybe. Perhaps it’s all a bad trip brought on by eating some funky ‘shrooms. Wheatley didn’t think it was that complicated a story so maybe that’s all there was to it.
*. Even if it doesn’t have much of a coherent story, is it nonetheless atmospheric? Frightening? Some people found it so. The scene where Whitehead comes out of the tent in harness is the favourite example given. I guess I found that a bit creepy, but also silly. Aside from that, I mostly just found the goings-on to be unpleasant. A man takes a painful shit. A penis is inspected with a magnifying glass. A couple of men are pissed on.
*. As for all the visual tricks — the extreme close-ups, the flash cutting, the tableau posing — you can take it all as expressing a hallucinatory state of mind. But then, what kinds of effects wouldn’t be so expressive? The photography is well enough done, but again clouds always look nice in black-and-white. Every shot of the sky makes you think of Ansel Adams. And the wind blowing through long grass is natural poetry.
*. I don’t know, I don’t know. A lot of people seem to have found a lot more in this one than I did. Is this summation by Kermode supposed to be taken as a positive judgement? “It’s further proof that Ben Wheatley is in a field of his own when it comes to this sort of stuff: it’s very powerful, very strange, and very hard to describe.” I’ll allow there’s a lot that’s left open to interpretation, but in itself I don’t think it’s any great achievement to be vague and evocative. Wheatley and Jump were trying for something different and I’ll credit them for getting it. It’s a weird mix of indie or what’s been called folk horror, with art house, historical drama, and something that feels like a Little Theatre production of some absurdist/existentialist drama thrown in. I didn’t think it was that great a movie though, and I certainly can’t say I enjoyed it.

5 thoughts on “A Field in England (2013)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Snap! I think that Wheatley, while much lauded, is over-rated, and while I’m keen to see his Rebecca, I found this self-indulgent and muddled. Even Sightseers is a film I didn’t love the way everyone else seemed to. He started well, with Kill List and Down Terrace, but stuff like Free Fire is just sub-Tarantino dreck IMHO. Thanks for calling this out!

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Did you like High-Rise? I thought that was pretty good. Free Fire was disappointing. This one seemed to be trying too hard. I think it’s just the way the system works that a lot of new talent gets jumped on by the media, which results in reputations being inflated.

      I didn’t know he was working on a Rebecca. I’d like to see that.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        The good thing about a new version of Rebecca is that it will encourage me to rewatch the original. I haven’t seen Kill List yet so I should try and get to that.

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