Director Ben Wheatley has gained a well-deserved rep for thinking outside the box.
But with A Field In England Wheatley and his regular writing partner (and wife) Amy Jump aren’t just outside the box – they’ve erupted way out of the storage depot.
Just off screen the English Civil War is raging. Shots, explosions, smoke, shouts, screams.
A man, Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), scrambles clear of the hellish melee, soon followed by two others who have likewise had their bellyful of fighting. A fourth man shows up and says he knows of a good inn nearby.
But it’s not an alehouse he leads them to – it’s a broad field surrounded by a mystic ring of mushrooms where an armed man with an Irish accent and a commanding air tells them a great treasure is buried.
Pretty soon Whitehead is roped, bewitched and used as a human metal detector, while his fellow-deserters are set to digging at gunpoint. Sounds weird? Oh, it gets a whole lot weirder.
Before long we have runestones, magic-mushroom visions, much talk of alchemy and stolen manuscripts; there’s a black mirror that becomes an earth-engulfing planet and a man who’s shot dead, resurrected and killed again.
All shot in moody, portentous black-and-white widescreen, bleak and beautiful, while Jim Williams’ nervy, percussive score deepens the sense of nameless foreboding.
Does it work? For the most part, yes; though at times you may feel you’re being fed obscurity for obscurity’s sake.
It could be that Wheatley’s outpaced his audience this time around.
And for a film that’s wrong-footed us so often and so deviously, it seems a shame that it culminates in a rather too predictable shoot-out.
But one thing’s for sure: bracingly bold and (surely) inimitable, A Field In England is like no other movie you’ve ever seen.
Ben Wheatley’s strangest movie yet: mysticism, mystification and magic mushrooms in a English Civil War setting. Often confusing, occasionally infuriating – but audaciously original.