Amid the breakdown in social hierarchy immediately after a bloody battle, four defectors of the English Civil War make their way toward an alehouse. One asks: "Beer has its own way of sorting things out, does it not?"
They trudge on, three lowborn men and the soft-handed assistant to an alchemist-astrologer (Reece Shearsmith) who's initially reluctant to taste the mushroom stew improvised outdoors at the beginning of their journey.
Seventeenth-century villagers were fond of using and abusing hallucinogenic mushrooms, but this quartet has no idea they've just gobbled up psychedelic soup. When they encounter the wanted thief O'Neil (Michael Smiley), their confusion makes them susceptible to his manipulations. The self-mythologizing O'Neil threatens to turn the most recalcitrant chap into a frog, and in their state, such a transformation seems entirely possible. "It does not surprise me that the devil is an Irishman," one of them mutters.
"A Field in England" filmmaker Ben Wheatley exploits his monochromatic palette to somberly surreal effect, much like director Randy Moore did in "Escape From Tomorrow." The familiar drugged-out visual syntax of jumbled attention and skipped time feels novel here, especially when the period costumes come alive through fantastical movements. Writer Amy Jump's quasi-Shakespearean dialogue is plausibly fanciful and foul.
But the happenstance plotting and over-reliance on violence as a plot motor dissipate the film's energy by the end. The fields of England have already seen too much blood.
"A Field in England." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. At Cinefamily, Los Angeles, and Downtown Independent, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.
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