A Field in England
Directed by Ben Wheatley
The Royal Cinema Toronto March 14
A rag tag group of Civil War veterans (Michael Smiley, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Barratt and Richard Glover) return home when they're sidetracked into digging up a field where treasure is buried. The field is crammed with massive outcroppings of magic mushrooms and soon they're feeling the consequences. They’re immobile and unable to think straight and soon the paranoia settles in; there is no escape from the hallucinogenic spores. They dig till it hurts to dig but have lost the individualism and courage to refuse to dig, as their watcher has a long gun and hair trigger temper.
What we see is a bunch of zombies staggering around, tied up, shot dead and reanimated, high as kites, jammed with paranoia and bad energy and unable to do a thing about any of it. Their keeper is in the same state but he is in charge and that’s his role even though there is no reason why he should hold the power. There are three of them and one of him. He has promised to take his slaves to an alehouse, but that promise has as much force as their delicate, mushroom- transformed states of mind.
Apparently hallucinogens were in wide use in merry old England. According to Wikipedia, magicians and performers blew mushroom dust in the audience’ faces ensuring their attention and whatever the magician’s bidding.
A Field in England seems like the natural 21st century descendant of The Wizard of Oz, a black and white, rough, harsh, cold and shocking one, and not designed for jollity and entertainment as much as, well, you tell me. It’s a celebration of the odd, rude and unenlightened side of ourselves that’s funny at times, and stark staring mad at times. The poppy field and mushroom field are the same place. It’s also tried to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead because the sad sack characters are prevented for one reason or another from getting up and moving away and doing something. Both films are about being stuck and talking endlessly about being stuck.
Wheatley seems to have made the film intentionally difficult to watch, but it’s worth it because of his extraordinary innovation. The tug-of-war, windstorm and man-tied to rope sequences are especially memorable and some scenes I wish I hadn’t seen.
Causal killing, brutal violence, body functions, close-ups of a diseased male part and mental torments add to its outrageousness but as for the horror, in the traditional sense, it doesn’t come from outside. It’s right in these people’s hearts and it finds a place to jump out in this mad field. Wheatley’s 100% commitment to our discomfort makes it a bit of a grind to watch but the payoff is worth it.