#26: A Field in England

A surrealist tale of myth and madness amidst the English Civil War

This review was originally posted to Twitter on January 5, 2019

Initial release: 2013
Director: Ben Wheatley

There’s something about making a mind-bending film in black and white: the lack of color seems to heighten the strangeness rather than dull it, because you’re already having to work your brain around the grey when the whole world’s in color. This disturbing film works upon ground trod by The Seventh Seal, using a historical backdrop to muse on matters of perception and the occult, as a cowardly alchemist’s assistant seeks a rogue colleague amidst the English Civil War, aided by three rough men, two of them deserters.

Spurred by the promise of an alehouse beyond a field, the third man, Cutler, has them pull a rope, at the end of which is the man the assistant is looking for — a man who has become an alchemist himself, and who forces the other three men to dig for buried treasure. Amidst all this is the ready consumption of mushrooms from the field and near constant profanity, the intensity of forced labor under the gun, and the cowardly, submissive assistant’s metamorphosis into a man who makes his own fate.

At the beginning, the film warns of “flashing images and stroboscopic sequences.” This is a hint that that this isn’t an ordinary film; other scenes, such as multiple scenes of the characters all standing still (and not just still frames, either!) in a tableau are more evidence. The soundscape is superb, all rumbles and eerie tones (not unlike the ringing after an artillery shell) with traditional music to cement the setting, complementing well the stark, empty landscape, which seems to be quite far from the raging battle just beyond the hedge. Indeed, it’s that passage through the hedge into the titular field that seems to be where the action turns from the tense intro into the film proper, almost as if it were a border between something less obvious than just one field and another — and that’s where things get weird.

It can be difficult to really discern what happens during the climax of the film; certainly, the mushrooms are hallucinogenic, but how can we determine what’s real and what’s deranged fantasy? What’s magic, and what’s imagination? Gainax would be proud. These themes of altered perception and ambiguity of what we’re seeing play well with sometimes deranged camera work, bizarre plot points (some rooted in English folklore) and an overall demented vein to the way the plot spools out.

There’s something about mind-bending film in black and white: there’s always that vague sense of homage to The Twilight Zone, but classic British horror cinema certainly stands honored too. It’s a puzzling, strange, yet eminently quotable movie that leaves you wondering.

-June❤

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june gloom

june gloom

Media critic, retired streamer, furry. I love you. [they/she]