Given how much time I spend watching and writing about weird movies, it's noteworthy to mention how much trouble Ben Wheatley's A Field in England gave me. Not because it's a bad film -- indeed it's quite the unique, weird, and fascinating feature -- but because I'm not sure "I get it." Most movie geeks get frustrated (perhaps even angry) when they cannot immediately decipher a strange movie, but it's actually pretty impressive when a film can A) throw you for a loop, B) yank you out of your comfort zone, and C) keep you interested even if you don't know exactly what you're watching.
In other words: A Field in England is not a traditional narrative. Those who enjoyed Mr. Wheatley's earlier films -- Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers -- will certainly appreciate what the director and his loyal team have concocted here, even if they don't fully "get" it. A movie need not be "deciphered" to be appreciated, and A Field in England is a perfect example of this theory.
A Field in England is about a troupe of 17th century British soldiers who retreat from a horrific battle, only to come across a mysterious and apparently mystical man who tells them of a treasure that is buried nearby. Unable to remove themselves from the magician's power, the three deserters become his servants. So the digging begins. And that's when things get really weird.
Almost aggressively strange in the way a good Ken Russell or Peter Greenaway film is aggressively strange, A Field in England is equal parts fascinating, maddening, beautiful, and disturbing. Those who go in expecting a traditional period piece thriller may find themselves aggravated with the weird directions the film explores, but those who are willing to surrender themselves to the offbeat "trip" that Wheatley and his collaborators have cooked up, well, those people might find a lot to appreciate here.
The sheer confidence inherent in producing such a "weird" movie is fascinating enough, but even if the narrative throws you a little bit, there are plenty of other assets worth appreciating. The cast, in particular, is quite good as they play with the material like it's a cross between Monty Python and William Shakespeare, and Laurie Rose's stark, lovely B&W cinematography is one of the film's most appealing components.
But what's most impressive is the consistent oddball originality of the film. A Field in England is certainly not for all tastes, but as a unique combination of war movie, absurdist farce, and semi-disturbing horror story, it's almost a hypnotic movie experience. I'm not even sure I fully "get" A Field in England, but my inability to "translate" a piece art is not what matters. The filmmakers definitely "get" what they're doing, and I was just happy to watch the dark, funny, and unpredictable weirdness take place. Plus it's always nice to see a film that will almost definitely pay additional dividends after a second or third visit.