It’s time for the 31 Days of Horror: 2014 Edition. For those of you who weren’t around for last year’s journey, the plan is to watch at least 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and review them all. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy my journey down the rabbit hole.
It’s not exactly a surprise that A Field in England is as largely impenetrable as it is. With it’s experimental narrative, hallucinogenic sequences, dark comedy, and sudden bursts of violence, it’s unmistakably the work of director Ben Wheatley. But what’s missing is the feeling of dread and consistent tone of even his oddest films. Considering how often Wheatley takes huge chances with his films, it wasn’t surprising that he would eventually make one that was a complete mess.
A nobleman’s servant (Reece Shearsmith) and three deserting soldiers (Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope) escape from a battle during the English Civil War. In short time, all but the servant have been served stew laced with hallucinogenic mushrooms and finds themselves at the mercy of a self-styled alchemist (Michael Smiley) who has a history with the servant. Convinced that a treasure is buried under a field in the countryside, he forces the men to dig while trying to harness the powerful magic that the servant seems to possess.
And that’s it. The characters dig a hole while pontificating about God and the Devil, the Monarchy, the practice of divination, and the joys of ale. It’s both as pretentious and boring as it sounds.
The oft-witty dialogue in Amy Jump’s script is the only saving grace of the movie and what keeps it from being unwatchable. For a film that I largely found dull, repetitive, and full of itself, I actually did laugh quite a bit at several lines. There is even a flat-out hilarious death scene for one of the characters that starts out maudlin before taking a left turn into the kind of caustic comedy that Wheatley did so well in Sightseers.
In all honesty, I probably would be a bit kinder to the film if Wheatley hadn’t directed it. But Kill List got under my skin in a way that most horror films fail to and Sightseers made my favorites list from last year, so I hold him up to a higher standard. In a way, despite the visual trickery he employs in the hallucinogenic sequences, A Field in England feels a lot like he is simply screwing around in a field with a camera and some friends and calling it a movie. It may be the most disappointing film I’ve seen this year.
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