A Field in England is a shock to the system. However, the film’s fine print entails a different definition of that phrase to movie goers. I certainly am not using that description to be complimentary.
Some are going to find Ben Wheatley’s trippy drama an enigmatic experience that has them coming back for more. It’s a film that seems as if its been tailor-made for the patient arthouse crowd.
Others – like I – will find A Field in England waffling for a full 90 minutes. As much as we want to pull odd intrigue out of Wheatley’s off-kilter movie, we can’t help but be put off by its thick stylistic shell and its overall staginess.
A Field in England has an extremely difficult time nailing authenticity. The movie takes place during the English Civil War, but it always feels like a contemporary, Sunday morning reenactment. Wheatley tries to convince us by piling on way too much rolling fog to make the wartime environment look real. It also feels as if the filmmaker is hoping the black-and-white presentation will deter us and make the movie look dated. None of these methods prosper and end up relinquishing to the film’s Shakespeare in the Park vibe.
I’ll side with the supporters briefly by saying that it is possible to see Wheatley’s direction and Amy Jump’s screenplay trying to give audiences a different type of historical flick. It deals with hallucinatory substances and isn’t afraid to go down unreal rabbit holes. The movie also doesn’t stray away from gruesome violence. A Field in England has an accepting point-of-view to its flawed characters and the emotional turmoil they encounter while wandering around emptiness trying to find hidden treasure.
The problem is its psychedelic agenda closes more doors than it opens. It’s a film that tests an audience’s moviegoing perseverance and often plucks away at a patron’s last nerve. By the time a chaotic and psychotic sequence explodes during the film’s falling action, aggravated movie goers have no choice but to let it wash over them since it’s – pretty much -the only time the audience is welcomed into the story.
This is a movie that may even stump the most adamant of puzzle solvers. That may come across as a delightful challenge to those who find the work of David Lynch a pleasure to put together. If that’s the case, those devotees may feel exhausted by the film’s halfway point because Wheatley hasn’t allowed them to rest and candidly enjoy the movie.
Every so often, a novel shot or pattern will be shown and have an impending feeling over its audience. The colourless palette allows for striking silhouetted images and the ongoing cycle of heading nowhere comes close to being suffocatingly visceral. Unfortunately, Wheatley is too busy having his actors confoundedly stand in tableau while optimistically waiting for his audience to make something of it.
There’s a niche for this type of movie. There’s enough proof of that through online discussion forums consisting of movie goers seeking out meanings and opinions. I’m glad those enthusiasts have a film in common – they can have it. Personally, I can’t wait to never watch this again.