While drug use in the 1960’s may have produced some interesting music, literature, and a penchant for paisley patterns, drug use centuries ago – whether accidental or not – CAUSED PEOPLE TO GO INSANE… or at least experience bizarre religious occurrences, attempt to grapple with their meaningless peasant existence, and/or dance for days on end.
It’s on the first two points that Ben Wheatley’s latest film, A FIELD IN ENGLAND, focuses on, and for good reason. The film is indeed set in a field in England, but, more interestingly, it is a field in England during the English Civil War, a war which occurred in the mid-17th century and featured the same Oliver Cromwell that Morrissey would one day sing about spitting on. It’s in this field that a band of deserters (Ryan Pope, Peter Ferdinando, and Richard Glover) and a runaway alchemist (Reece Shearsmith) set out in search of an ale house. They leave behind the sounds of a raging battle on the other side of the hedge row where the film begins, and, in a way, the “real” world, embarking across a surreal and empty landscape of gaping meadows.
Their plans to find the alehouse quickly go awry, however, as one of the deserters tricks the other two into eating psychedelic mushrooms. The alchemist is too smart to fall for this, but is kept from acting upon it due to the treacherous deserter’s pistol. Soon, the group is forced into summoning another, more powerful escapee from the alchemist’s master (Michael Smiley), who forces the company to begin searching for a valuable treasure buried somewhere in the field.
What follows is a black, white, and brutal trip into the deepest recesses of paranoia, replete with auditory and visual hallucinations. The firm plot points begin to peel away like paint as the viewer is sucked into the same terrifying realm that the characters now dwell in. Life and death become fleeting concepts that can be toyed with, while the limits of ideas like friendship and leadership are put to test. Essentially, it is one bad trip.
“Trippy” movies can often border or even plunge into “tedious” ones, but Wheatley knows enough to keep time on his side in A FIELD. Rather than lurk in the awful mire of terrifying imagery and bad vibes, he pulls out just before the dark can become the dull, creating a lasting memory of terror in at least this reviewers mind. Good stuff!
A FIELD IN ENGLAND will be playing at the Brattle at 9:30 pm every night through 3/13.