31 Days of Halloween: Day 24 – A Field in EnglandA movie review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is director/co-writer Ben Wheatley's A Field in England.
Following up on his ABCs of Death installment and Sightseers, Ben Wheatley takes us back in time to the English Civil War with the psychedelic horror of A Field in England. The film is a master class in low-budget film making as it was shot for barely the cost of a half-hour television show (£300,000), has a very small cast, and takes place almost entirely in a single setting -- the titular field in England.
Every performer does impressive work, but the dynamic is simply electric between Reece Shearsmith as an alchemist's assistant named Whitehead and Michael Smiley as O'Neill, the man who stole the alchemist's papers and has set out to, um, do something. Find a treasure, maybe. But that could just be a story he tells, because by that time in the story, everybody's tripping on mushrooms and things get very scary and very weird.
If you don't know, Shearsmith is one of the demented minds responsible for The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville, and starred in the criminally underrated horror film, The Cottage (2008). Seriously, go check out all of those if you haven't. And if you've read any of my reviews of things UK, you'll know that Michael Smiley is one of my favorite working actors, having brightened everything from Spaced to Utopia to Black Mirror to Ben Wheatley's previous films Down Terrace, Kill List, and "U is for Unearthed" in ABCs of Death.
This is the sort of film that was made for Midnight Movie watching, echoing classic mindfucks like Eraserhead (1977) or El Topo (1970) while also staying true to the tradition of UK folk horror like Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), or the 1977 British TV mini-series Children of the Stones. And again, yes, you should go watch all of these as soon as possible, too.
I'm not really going to say a lot about this film, because it doesn't really explain much of anything to the viewer, and I don't want to spoil anything about this one. The plot is relatively simple, but what actually happens is complex as hell. And when all is said and done, nothing you think is real may actually be real. Or worse, it's all real. The hallucinogenic adventure that these characters are on isn't just something happening to them; the film's narrative itself slowly adopts a hallucinogenic style, with long silences, slow-motion sequences, mind-bending fast-cut psychedelic imagery and then suddenly the medium becomes the message.
Watch it. Then watch it again. Then, why not? Watch it again.
Then when you talk about it to someone else who's seen it, you still won't be able to agree about what actually happened. It's accomplished in a way similar to what was tried with Berberian Sound Studio, however A Field in England doesn't fall short. And that, my friends, is its own special kind of genius.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.