There is a plot, much good it does any of its characters. Stumbling through that hedge, away from the deafening cannon and drums of the English Civil War, the self-confessed coward Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) falls in with three deserters whose initial absurdist quest for an alehouse presently metamorphoses into something even more Beckettian and unsettling, digging for treasure in a vast, silent, sun-fogged field that might exist on the other side of time from the earth-raining concussions of battle, though in truth they are as little escaped from it as Whitehead from the ringing of blood in his ears. An alchemist's sheltered assistant who admits that he finds "pages easier to turn than people," he was dispatched from Oxford to find and apprehend a former student of his master's who ran off with his papers. He was happy to escape that task with the death of his contemptuous commander: but like a bad penny or an appointment in Samara, the smiling, malevolent figure that faces him now is that same O'Neill (Michael Smiley), in full Royalist regalia with a better shirt and boots than Whitehead has ever owned, and he wants to use Whitehead's gifts for divination to locate the treasure. And use Whitehead he does—the mushroom-fueled third-act freakout may be the film's most visually stunning sequence, but the most horrifying is the sound of Whitehead's screams from inside O'Neill's tent, from which he emerges with a mad, blind, ecstatic smile, a transfiguring vision in a harness of endless rope. (We never learn what O'Neill did to him. It cannot have been anything as normal as sexual or physical violence. It opens him up; it makes him an unerring instrument; it leaves him hungry.) Increasingly the reality of the field seems to collapse, burning itself out from the center like the black sun of Whitehead's visions, the cold smoky mirror of O'Neill's scrying glass. From time to time, the cast are seen posed in painterly, Greenaway-like tableaux that are never quite still: the men blink, sway slightly; the wind ruffles their hair and capes and cuffs. There may be a Twilight Zone-like twist ending. That might not be it at all.
There are also dick jokes. Good dick jokes. Much of the movie is extremely funny, which I understand is not at all perceptible from the previous summary. Some of it's acid-black existential comedy, some of it is just one guy snapping at his unwittingly stoned companion, "What is it with you and hands?" (I also think that "Your privy parts are doomed, homunculus!" is a hilarious thing to yell at someone.) The hallucinatory scenes are at once powerfully symbolic—a magicians' duel, a psychomachia—and as fragmentary, jump-cut, and detail-obsessing as a real trip. The sound work is extraordinary, pulling together plaintive folk songs with the unrelenting echo of drums and washes of synths and other electronic noise that manage not to feel like screaming anachronism so much as the soundtrack of a mental state. I have one track downloadable from the website and I'm hoping the rest of it is released soon. For that matter, I would own this film on DVD if it comes in the right region. I have rarely seen anything like it, especially in a historical movie. If it's typical of Ben Wheatley, I am really looking forward to his season of Doctor Who now.
An incomplete list of things of which A Field in England reminded me: Jeanette Winterson's The Daylight Gate (2012), Alan Garner's Red Shift (1973), Aleksandr Rogozhkin's The Cuckoo (2002), Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio (2012), the Lyke-Wake Dirge. At least one scene in Greer Gilman's Cloud & Ashes (2009). The music of Belbury Poly, Lal Waterson, and 16 Horsepower. Caitlín R. Kiernan's The Red Tree (2009). At this point the reader of this journal should be able to tell whether this film will interest them or not, although if the reader is ashlyme or greygirlbeast, I'm going to be rather more actively encouraging. The cinematography, while I'm at it, is beautiful. Best black-and-white outdoor photography since Erwin Hillier in A Canterbury Tale (1944).
In the meantime, sleep.