A Field in England (2013)
August 31, 2015 9:41 AM - Subscribe

Amid the Civil War in 17th-century England, a group of deserters flee from battle through an overgrown field. Captured by an alchemist, the men are forced to help him search to find a hidden treasure that he believes is buried in the field.

"Wheatley's style is so original—at times almost indescribably so—that its blind alleys and excesses, too-muchness and too-littleness seem of a piece. There's something to be said for a film that plainly could not care less what anyone thinks of it." -Matt Zoller Seitz, The Dissolve

Next vote will be open until Friday.
posted by naju (22 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This movie was working on a level that I couldn't connect with when I tried to watch it last year. I made it about 15-20 minutes in before I realized that I just didn't have the energy to try to keep up with what was going on. I'm sure it's smarter than I am, and I feel okay with that. Maybe I'll give it another shot after a strong black coffee sometime.
posted by doctornecessiter at 1:34 PM on August 31, 2015

In general I find Wheatley to be supremely boring and overrated. However, I really liked Field. I think the movie does a good job of setting up the strangeness of the situation, and plays with simple visual effects to evoke the mind bending nature of the plot, and the magic that may or may not be happening. The unique setting also helps.
posted by codacorolla at 1:50 PM on August 31, 2015

I watched this yesterday evening, and I'm still having trouble gathering my thoughts about it. I really liked each individual beat, I'm not sure they added up for me. I especially though the "freeze frame"s worked really well, and the weird freak out at the end was really interesting to watch, but I'm not sure it wasn't just sound and fury.
posted by hobgadling at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2015

I think this is basically a work of genius, but without the polish that it probably needed to be a truly fine film. I feel much the same way about it as Tarantino recently said of It Follows: a movie so good you're mad at it for not being great.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:23 PM on August 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'll admit, this one kind of surprised me. I was expecting something more directly supernatural, and instead got something that was both slightly low-key and deeply odd.

I actually took a bit of extra time just now to go back and watch it again after initially watching it over the weekend. The second viewing made it a bit easier to pick up on the characters and background. The group dynamics became a lot clearer to me, in particular the influence wielded over them by O'Neil prior to his first appearance (Sidebar: Was he literally camouflaged as that carved wooden post?) around the 30-minute mark.

For one thing, it becomes obvious from the beginning that Cutler is doing O'Neil's bidding. By the time it was revealed in the third act, I'd already figured out that the alehouse story was something O'Neil planted in Cutler's mind to bring everyone to the field. But I hadn't put together that he'd also made Cutler spear the mercenary (1) chasing Whitehead at the beginning, thus eliminating the only character with both the skills and inclination to arrest him by force.

I'm also nursing a maybe-crackpot theory that Friend might have been (say it with me now!) dead the whole time, and was brought back to life at the beginning in the same way that he was at the end (twice, even!), along with Cutler and Jacob. He didn't seem like a complete puppet of O'Neil's, so I'm still working out what his function was to the plan. Perhaps he was literally there as comic relief, to distract Whitehead from the encroaching darkness being brought on by O'Neil.

I do kind of wonder how self-aware the bit was towards the end where the dying Jacob laments having never found the treasure in the field, and Whitehead grabs his hand and says something that basically amounts to "IT TURNED OUT THE REAL TREASURE WAS FRIENDSHIP ALL ALONG". I think it's possible that the whole thing (packed as it was with comedic actors) was actually intended as a stealth black comedy, dressed up as a mock-1970s period horror-drama.

(1) Who I immediately recognized as Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh, only to see him get cut down just as quickly. Sigh.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:39 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm totally with you on the stealth black comedy theory. There were parts of this that were extremely funny, in a very pitch black, dry British humor sort of way. Looking at it from this angle makes it much more palatable I think. Otherwise if it's trying to make a serious point about something, I'm afraid I'm not picking up what it's putting down. Was also pretty iffy on the magic mushrooms aspect - it just seems like it's a no-no to make an overt "mindfuck" movie where a prominent part is druuugs, man. I would've been happier if the mushrooms device was taken out, probably, even if the narrative ended up making (even) less sense. But seen as an unconventional drug comedy, it's actually all pretty clever.

Obvious El Topo / Jodorowsky vibes going on, the alchemist in particular is a straight up homage. Shades of Ravenous for anyone else?

Absolutely loved the cinematography - images that stand out are those widescreen shots of the field. Looked gorgeous. The sound was amazing too. The Blanck Mass "Chernobyl" track over the slow-motion shot of Whitehead coming out of the tent, holy shit.
posted by naju at 7:30 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

This movie was working on a level that I couldn't connect with when I tried to watch it last year. I made it about 15-20 minutes in before I realized that I just didn't have the energy to try to keep up with what was going on.

I had exactly the same experience, but it's on my list to try again because people I trust who managed to get through it swear it is worth the effort.
posted by robcorr at 9:27 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

It definitely held my attention through the first viewing, but I agree that the first 20-30 minutes are kind of a challenge. I don't know if it was because everybody was wearing similar clothes and beards and dirt, or the B&W photography, or just my slight faceblindness, but I had a bit of trouble differentiating the characters at first.

Once things settled in, I was OK but there is something of an in media res learning curve to figuring out who's who, and while you're doing that there's a bunch of other exposition that might whiz past without landing. (I did turn on the subtitles, which were occasionally helpful for the more mumbly bits.) The second viewing helped me get a better grasp on it. Thankfully, the film's only 90 minutes, otherwise I might not have bothered.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:25 AM on September 1, 2015

I wanted to turn the movie off for the first half. For some reason it reminded me of The Doors movie, and that is not a flattering comparison. However after the tent scene (which I think didnt really work well) the movie definitely became funny. With the alchemist running around the field and the others chasing him to stop at the exact point he began being the turning point for me. After that the movie became enjoyable to me.

Also, that dude ate A LOT of mushrooms!
posted by Literaryhero at 5:32 AM on September 1, 2015

I love it. The moment when Whitehead emerges from the tent in extreme slow motion with the rope attached to him, I loved it. I love its inconsistencies, its deranged sense of humor, its extremely localized folk horror.

That being said, it is one of those films I love that I would not in good conscience recommend willy nilly. It's for it's own audience, and not for anybody else.
posted by maxsparber at 9:32 AM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I loved it but then I really love anything Wheatley does. This film is very much a classic British dread-of-the-countryside film in that for some reason the UK seems to do it better than anyone else. Bucolic fields are always very terrifying for unnamed reasons.
posted by Kitteh at 10:27 AM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Loved it. The rope scene was completely bizarre to me but I've since learned that this comes from folklore. To free a person from a fairy ring (a ring of mushrooms!) you need 4 people pulling a rope.
Trower called Whitehead a homunculus at the beginning there, right? That wasn't just me? On a literal reading that fits, but maybe having latched on to it coloured my experience of the film.
posted by rodlymight at 7:19 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm really interested in Ben Wheatley's new film, which is an adaptation of J.G. Ballard's High-Rise.
posted by naju at 8:09 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

A friend pointed me to this post which provides a decent amount of context, historical and otherwise.
posted by naju at 8:31 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm going to be suuuuuuper lazy and just post the paragraph I wrote about this film in my Top 21 for 2014 list:

Ben Wheatley has proven over the course of four features that he’s one of the most interesting directors working in the UK. His fourth and latest film, A FIELD IN ENGLAND, is a huge departure from his previous work. Taking place during the 17th century civil war in England, the film follows Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), a timid literate who flees his commanding officer and takes up with a trio of other deserters, Cutler (Ryan Pope), Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and Friend (Richard Glover). Cutler leads them into a vast field by promising a neutral town with an ale house lies on the other side, but in fact his plan is to lead them to his master O’Neil (Michael Smiley), magically imprisoned in the field and searching desperately for a treasure that may not exist. The setting and style would be enough to set A FIELD IN ENGLAND apart from just about any other feature film released this year, but Wheatley takes it even further by shooting the whole thing in gorgeous black & white, with some crazy psychedelic imagery to simulate the hallucinogenic effects of the mushrooms the men eat. There is some genuinely horrific imagery in this film, but it’s not all as grim as that suggests. Wheatley gives the film welcome moments of humor that help keep the proceedings from getting overly dour. It makes a perverse kind of sense that Wheatley’s next film is an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s HIGH RISE, and after A FIELD IN ENGLAND, I can hardly wait to see it.

I will add, though, that I haven't seen Wheatley's first film Down Terrace yet, but for some reason it wasn't until watching A Field in England (after Kill List and Sightseers) that I realized class issues may be an overriding theme in his work. I don't really have much else to say about it until I've seen Down Terrace, but it's definitely there in all three of his films I have seen.
posted by tomorrowromance at 2:23 PM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

The results are in, and the next film will be The Visitor! (Also known as Stridulum.) Here's the IMDB page and trailer. Post will go up on the 14th. The movie is available through Amazon Prime streaming, and plenty of digital rental options. Or you can memail ryanrs.
posted by naju at 1:29 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm honestly surprised to see that The Tribe didn't get any votes this time out. Can SurveyMonkey do instant runoff-style voting? I voted for The Visitor, because it looks kind of incredible, but if I'd had a #2 vote, it probably would've gone to The Tribe.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:09 AM on September 6, 2015

Is it possible to post each new film to Fanfare Talk? I think it will give the club a bit more visibility and also makes it easier for me to follow along (I am a non Recent Activity using heathen).
posted by Literaryhero at 10:03 PM on September 7, 2015

Is it possible to post each new film to Fanfare Talk?

I'd ordinarily be into that, and was considering it, but I don't see any other club having an announcement thread for every movie. Fanfare Talk posts are somewhat low volume, so the end result would be the whole thing being clogged up with Strange Club announcement posts.

I do put the movies on the events calendar, so if you navigate to FanFare->Clubs, you'll see our selections on the "Upcoming Club Events" sidebar. I do wish there was something more visible, or some notification system for club members. Might be a thing to bring up as a suggestion in Metatalk.
posted by naju at 11:29 AM on September 8, 2015

I spoke too soon... looks like the Horror Club (run by Whelk) does movie announcements as well as movie threads. Hmm, maybe we should too. Anyone else have thoughts?
posted by naju at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2015

I'm for it. I think all this is pretty new and the conventions of Fanfare haven't fully jelled yet, but it seems like the sensible thing to me.
posted by rodlymight at 2:53 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cool! Good call on this idea. I just made the announcement post.
posted by naju at 6:58 PM on September 11, 2015

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