It always seems pointless to say that a movie “isn’t for everyone”—no movie is for everyone—but with A Field in England, saying it almost seems necessary. Only one guy walked out of the screening I attended, but he felt compelled to inform me that the movie was “awful” on his way out. (This happened shortly after the first on-screen close-up of a gentleman’s package, which may be telling.)
I’m not sure what A Field in England is, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not awful. You don’t have to look far to find people telling you that it’s brilliant—the last time I looked it had a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m not sure that it’s brilliant, either, but it is intriguing and strange, and there are certainly moments of brilliance in it. (The scene when the guy walks out of the tent. Holy shit.)
You also don’t have to look far to find people claiming that nothing happens in A Field in England, which also almost certainly isn’t true. Stuff definitely happens in A Field in England. The thing is, I’m not sure what does happen in it. Before I saw the movie, I jokingly claimed that my review was simply going to say, “I don’t have any idea what happened, and I think I may have dreamed part of it, but I am pretty confident that there was, in fact, a field.” That claim turned out to be eerily prescient.
What can I say for certain? Four men walk into the titular field, where they encounter a fifth man. Crazy stuff occurs. An indeterminate number walk back out. One? Three? None? I’m not sure. Everything else, as the movie warns you in one of its earliest lines, is “only shadows.”
Like Kill List, the only other Ben Wheatley film I’ve actually seen so far, there’s a whiff of Laird Barron’s fiction in this film. (If you haven’t read him yet, do yourself a favor.) It’s also an obvious successor of generations of British cinema. You can certainly trace a lineage from movies like Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan’s Claw down to this thing. There’s stuff going on here, certainly, and I could even speculate on what, and probably will. The other thing is, though, that it doesn’t really matter much what actually happens. The movie doesn’t trade in much besides mystification. It’s more interested in screwing with you than it is in telling you a story. By the time the film reaches its spectroscopic, kaleidoscopic climactic moments, you’re either in it by then or you’re not. If that sounds appealing, then chances are there’s something here for you. If not, well, see the beginning of my review.