Sunday, 7 July 2013

FIlm Review: A Field in England (2013)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley
Stars: Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt and Reece Shearsmith

A desolate field in England, during the Civil War. Two men are in a white tent, one is screaming violently and unrelentingly but we can’t see what is happening. Three soldiers stand outside, not reacting to the screams but lost in their own hallucinations kicking in from the mushrooms they used in a soup. The screaming stops and in slow motion a man walks out of the tent with a rope wrapped around his torso. The rope is taunt and seemingly never ending. The man has a devilish grin on his face, the like of which cannot be described with words, but the stark black and white photography make it the most truly disturbing scene this reviewer has seen for many years.

In this scene and throughout his film, director Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England is an assault on what we know as narrative storytelling and if his goal is to confuse, upset, and disturb his audience then his work as director is fully accomplished long before the credits roll. Every decision he makes as director is intended to evoke an unrelenting, unsettling atmosphere; extreme close ups of eyes, actors momentarily staring directly at the camera, slow motion, undercranking, rapid editing to the point of a creating a strobe effect, Wheatley does it all.

To describe each scene and the characters’ descent into madness is pointless for they have to be seen to be appreciated, and Wheatley should be praised for his ability to get under the skin of the audience. However, employing every trick he can use to create the atmosphere of this film doesn’t lend itself to being anything more than an experiment or a highly polished final student project. All of the visuals and cinematic techniques can only serve to go so far before one questions ‘where is this going’ and the film begins to show its frailties. Cut this film’s running time in half and the effect would still be the same because it’s just visuals, little storytelling craft; that’s OK as a one-off experiment, but a masterpiece this certainly is not.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: A Field In England looks and feels like a small experiment of what can be created on a low budget, but it never feels like we’re watching a film; it could be equally as serviceable watching on YouTube as it would at a cinema and that may well be the point of Wheatley’s production as it was indeed released on July 5th in all types of media, allowing the viewer to consume it as they wish. It should be seen for its creative use of film making techniques, but offers little else in the way of enjoyment.

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