With this being awards season, a lot of attention is being given to a small handful of films. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because I love some of those films. However, with all the focus being some narrowly directed, we run the risk of forgetting that Boyhood, Birdman, and Whiplash weren’t the only memorable films released this year. With that in mind, I’ve decided to post 10 quick reviews of some other films that, if I was in charge of things, would be given some awards consideration.
We start things off with Ben Wheatley’s haunting and psychedelic period piece, A Field In England.
As you might be able to tell from the above trailer, A Field In England is not necessarily an easy film to describe. The film takes place in the 17th Century, during the English Civil War. Reece Shearsmith plays Whitehead, who is an apprentice to a never-seen alchemist known as The Gentleman of Norwich. Fleeing from a raging battle, Whitehead meets three deserters, Cutler (Ryan Pope), Jacob (Peter Ferdinando), and Friend (Richard Glover). Cutler offers to lead them to a nearby ale house but instead, he takes them to a desolate field where Cutler secretly drugs them with hallucinogenic mushrooms and then demands that they pull on a rope that appears to be attached to a stake in the middle of the ground. Pulling on the rope leads to the sudden appearance of Cutler’s boss, the haughty and sadistic O’Neill (Michael Smiley).
O’Neill, it turns out, is also in some way connected to the Gentleman of Norwich. He claims that there is a treasure buried in the field and only Whitehead — as the apprentice to an alchemist — will be able to find it. At first, Whitehead refuses to help O’Neill but then O’Neill takes Whitehead into a tent and does …. well, he does something. The film never makes explicit what happens in that tent and the result is one of the most hauntingly disturbing scenes that I’ve ever seen.
And from there, things only get stranger. Jacob and Friend are forced to dig for the treasure while Whitehead consumes more and more mushrooms. The characters occasionally freeze in place, creating a painterly tableaux. A character dies and then repeatedly returns to life. Most ominously of all, a black sun appears in the sky, seeming to grow with each new outrage.
Obviously, A Field in England is not a film for everyone. That’s what makes it a truly memorable and brave cinematic experience. At a time when so many movies are ruthlessly designed to take absolutely no risks, A Field In England is willing to run the risk of being incomprehensible. However, the film itself is so well-directed and acted and the black-and-white cinematography is so hauntingly gorgeous that it doesn’t matter whether or not it makes any sense. In fact, after a while, you start to truly love the fact that it does not. This is pure cinema and therefore, it’s exactly the type of film that not only deserves but demands to be seen and honored.
Unfortunately, it’s also a film that has been ruled ineligible for any Oscar nominations, which is a pity. However, regardless of what the Academy may say, it still deserves the consideration of film lovers everywhere.