When he's not busy directing GoCompare adverts on telly, director Ben Wheatley is making forward thinking independent feature films. 'A Field In England' is his latest effort, one almost overshadowed by its release strategy - which saw the film simultaneously appear in cinemas, on television, and through video on demand. A quite baffling, drug-induced Civil War tale, starring Reece Shearsmith and Michael Smiley.
'A Field In England' follows last year's 'Sightseers', widely recognised as his most accessible offering thus far. However, his new film shares more in its dark tones with 2010's disturbing 'Kill List'. Indeed, it also shares a similarly polarising outcome - viewers either left engrossed or frustrated. For me, 'Kill List' was a triumph, whereas I was left floundering by this film.
The plot is difficult to follow but essentially boils down to a group of men initially seeking an alehouse before buried treasure becomes their new quest, under the influence of hallucinogens and Michael Smiley's curious alchemist. Our focus mainly lies with Reece Shearsmith's character, a cowardly scholar, who becomes key to finding this hallowed treasure.
Ultimately, the plot is somewhat secondary - instead, the stark black-and-white cinematography, Amy Jump's slightly forced period language, and the captivating score from Jim Williams dominate. Wheatley typically excels in terms of his sound design, and Martin Pavey's excellent work combined with the complementary score is a particular highlight of 'A Field In England' - at times, offering wide-eyed orchestral pieces before delving into the deeply ominous.
The hypnotic, haunting shots equally compel the viewer, used to strong effect in the drug-fuelled imagery which largely emerges toward the end of the film. The editing choices bring a tension between quiet and disquiet, and in some respects, become reminiscent of Radiohead's seminal 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)' video.
By the gore-filled conclusion of 'A Field In England', there remains a sense that perhaps Wheatley has opted for an overly convoluted feature, to be pigeonholed as a low budget, "experimental" art piece. Yet there is another underlying feeling that this is a film that warrants at least a second viewing - much like his often misunderstood 'Kill List'.
'A Field In England' is still in limited release in UK cinemas, and available to purchase on DVD through amazon.co.uk etc. Find more info at afieldinengland.com.