Critics' Pick

A Field in England (NR)

Horror 91 February 7, 2014
By Alan Scherstuhl
A grim and hilarious hallucination in monochrome, Ben Wheatley's small-budget historical freak-out A Field in England ticks madly between unities-honoring classical drama, language-drunk existentialism, cock-brandishing Elizabethan ribaldry, and the muskets-and-sorcery madness of some as yet unconceived Vertigo comics series, one where the old ball-and-powder somehow has anachronistic power to blow right through a man's head. The film feels both reckless yet fully controlled, a jest that's dead serious in the manner of Yorick's skull. Wheatley's characters — deserters from a skirmish in England's 17th-century civil war -- wander about in the field of the title, a grand sloping meadow of the sort that British poets, rock stars, and teenagers have long considered the ideal place to get high in. It proves itself a fully singular and tough-to-shake experience even before its characters honor that national tradition by stuffing psychotropic mushrooms into their whiskery gobs. Rarely has a narrative feature so marvelously integrated a sequence of experimental filmmaking, and that sequence alone guarantees A Field in England should thrive on the midnight circuit. The story's an unsettling series of fake-outs and take-backs, with the four deserters first agreeing to hunt down some ale and then applying themselves to mysterious tasks ordered by their betters. The dialogue, from Amy Jump, is rich and sticky as English dessert, its archaic poetry one of the film's chief pleasures; equally strong is the look of that field, shot in a sumptuous, silver-toned black-and-white. There are magnificent reveries: a caterpillar inching along a branch, the mists melting into the sun, the cast occasionally arranged into still-life tableaux, standing motionless like they're working with a painter rather than terrifically gifted filmmakers.
Ben Wheatley Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt, Reece Shearsmith, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Ryan Pope Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley Drafthouse Films

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