NZIFF Review - A Field in England
Ben Wheatley returns to the New Zealand International Film Festival and puts the WTF squarely into the Incredibly Strange section of the programme.
In his latest, a black and white piece set in the Civil War in England, it's up to you to put together some of the many pieces of this puzzle as they warp out in front of your eyes.
Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) stars as Whitehead, a coward avoiding the fighting going on just over the hedges and frustratingly out of sight (robbing us of context). Joined by 3 others, Whitehead falls in with a troop of ne'er-do-wells, who want to get to an inn just over the hill - however, their journey takes a strange turn when they stumble upon O'Neill (Michael Smiley) whose desire to use Whitehead to find something in the field threatens them all.
A Field In England is a trippy piece of civil war psychedelia, mixed in with some of Wheatley's trademark dark humour. It's also frustratingly short on answers and high on puzzles meaning every audience member will have an interpretation of what's going on exactly and while that's fun for debate afterwards, a lack of linear answers may prove a befuddlement too far.
Though it has to be said, Wheatley's style comes shining through once again - with trippy sequences after mushrooms have been digested and psychosis sets in via an electronic soundtrack, it's a visceral thrill to see it unfold even if you're not 100% sure what the hell is going on.
Reece Shearsmith provides some genuinely unsettling moments - and a combined slow mo shot of him stumbling out of a tent after a confrontation with Smiley's O'Neill may be lacking in answers as to what's just gone on following the screaming, but it's not lacking on menace and a general feeling of the disturbed. Some of Wheatley's imagery is haunting and disgusting but always memorable (not always for the best reasons.)
There's some bleak humour here too - a confession of one of the group who's dying centres on his infidelity to his wife and brings some laughs which are unexpected; that's the thing with A Field In England, Wheatley's jumped so far out of any box you may expect after Sightseers and Kill List, that he's to be commended for the fact this film is so damn hard to classify, put in a box and properly review.
Freeze frame shots recall Civil War poses, a soundtrack taking in songs from the time and music add to the setting, and a general feeling of unease and pure dread drip from the screen as the low level plot plays out to its maddening end.
A Field In England is an utterly WTF experience at the New Zealand International Film Festival - and its perplexing nature provides the enigmatic riddle we need to puzzle over for years to come. Some of the best film is the stuff which can't be pigeonholed - and once again, Wheatley's done it; he's committed something unique and audacious to celluloid, something which defies expectations and which provides more questions than it does answers.