If 2012’s ‘Sightseers’ suggested that British filmmaker Ben Wheatley was moving in a slightly more commercial direction following the whacked-out hitman horror of ‘Kill List’, ‘A Field in England’ swiftly puts any such fears to rest. It starts out straightforwardly enough – a group of soldiers from both sides of the English Civil War flee a battle in search of a pub. But after they stumble across a crop of the local mushrooms, things begin to get weirder. And weirder. And yet weirder.
‘A Field in England’ was shot in a few weeks with a skeleton cast and crew and entirely within the confines of a single grassy meadow in Surrey. Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley play a cowardly priest and his psychotic adversary, each of them pursuing a mystical MacGuffin the nature of which we never fully understand.
But story is secondary – if that – in Wheatley’s world. This is a film built on sensation, misdirection and randomness. The result can be maddeningly obtuse, but it’s also breathtakingly lovely and genuinely unsettling. As the historical setting suggests, early ’70s folk-horror is a key influence. But so are the experimental films of Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage: towards the end, there’s a ten-minute sequence of pure psychedelic freefall and freakout which is one of the most captivating, hypnotic and beautiful things you’ll ever see on a cinema screen.
On which note, ‘A Field in England’ is being released simultaneously in cinemas, on DVD and on TV. We can’t stress enough how important it is to catch this one on the big screen.