10 out of 10
Release Date: 7th July 2013
Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover and Julian Barratt
Writer: Amy Jump
Trailer: A Field In England
Ben Wheatley‘s fourth feature film is heavy. After the relatively light Sightseers, I’m pleased to report that this is both Wheatley’s best so far and the best British film of 2013 (so far). Set during the English Civil War, three deserters; one a scholar, Whitesmith (REECE SHEARSMITH – LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN), the other two, soldiers Friend and Jacob (RICHARD GLOVER – SIGHTSEERS and PETER FERDINANDO – TURNOUT) are led to a field by a mysterious wanderer, Cutler (RYAN POPE – LOOKING FOR ERIC). Bribed with visions of a nearby ale house and plied with wild (magic) mushroom soup they soon find themselves trapped within a fairy ring by a deadly alchemist, O’Neil (MICHAEL SMILEY – KILL LIST) who happens to be searching for buried treasure.
That’s how much I think I know. This is because so much is offered but nothing is confirmed. Much like the dim soldiers we are taken in by the intially light jovial tone of the story. Even a thwarted rescue attempt (to free someone from the fairy ring with a rope) is played for disorientating laughs. It’s only around the halfway mark when the tone turns black and the comedy upsetting you find that there’s no way out. A disturbing (off-screen) torture scene results in one of the most haunting visual depictions of posession (or is it?) that I’ve ever seen. For the first time since Down Terrace, Wheatley has chosen to use music to bolster the scenes emotions. At times reminiscent of Michael Nyman‘s score for The Draughtsman’s Contract, there are also sections of powerful ambience (one of which enhances said possession) and a folk ditty of the time which recurs at distant intervals.
The scenes are often punctuated with unusual tableaux and frequent ‘fade to blacks’. The use of black and white also serves to unease. It takes perhaps an instant longer to decipher the frame in chrome. The acting is excellent all round. Reece Shearsmith takes the honours for most accomplished lead by a comic actor in a long, long time. He’s amply backed up by the rest of the cast, namely Richard Glover‘s tragic Friend, who easily could have have come across as cheap comic relief. SPOILER: His death speech is one of the finest since Rutger Hauer’s at the end of Bladerunner. Seriously. But what of the plot? Well, an understanding of the negrado stage (despair) of the four stages of alchemy would be a good place to start although it does mix mythology with completely unheard of / original elements. An ill planet maybe about to collide with the earth, a man pukes up a collection of gold runes, a poltis for an angry man’s ballbag gives him sense and grace, all these occur and serve to baffle and confuse. The overall effect is one of awe though. You’ll never see another film like it and besides some superficial comparisons to Winstanley, The Wicker Man and Jabberwocky, you’ll never have seen anything quite like it before, either.
10 out of 10 – A truly original whirl of invention and horror that will stay on your mind for days and haunt your dreams. You can probably tell from the length of this review that it defies written description, and isn’t that proof enough, that if it can shut an amateur film critic like me up, it’s got to be fucking awesome. (Awesome in the true sense, not California Man sense).
Brilliant and learned review from Joe Pesci II aka Matt Mushroom
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Reece Shearsmith: Borley Rectory (voice), The Man You’re Not, High-Rise, Inside No.9 (TV), The World’s End, Burke & Hare, The Cottage, The League Of Gentlemen- Apocalypse, Birthday Girl, The League Of Gentlemen (TV)
- Michael Smiley: The Devil Went Down To Islington, The Hallow, Glassland, Black Sea, We Are The Freaks, Svengali, For Those In Peril, The World’s End, The ABCs of Death, Shell, Luther (TV), Kill List, Burke & Hare, Down Terrace, Outpost, Big Fat Gypsy Gangster
- Peter Ferdinando: Knights of the Roundtable – King Arthur, High-Rise, Hyena, Starred Up, Turnout, Snow White and The Huntsman, Tony
- Ryan Pope: United We Fall, Celluloid, Ideal (TV), Looking For Eric
- Richard Glover: The Man You’re Not, Sightseers
- Julian Barratt: Aaaaah!, The Harry Hill Movie, Bunny and The Bull, Nathan Barley (TV), The Mighty Boosh (TV)