Contrary to the trailer, Ben Wheatley’s film is entirely in black and white, giving the story an unreality, which is appropriate as we follow five characters traipse across mushroom-infested fields amid England’s civil war, going on acid trips and exchanging humorous dialogue with one another.
This is an interesting and worthy experiment, the premise alone is fascinating and untouched material, but the film does float at a glacial pace and lacks a strong narrative or character drive, populated by archetypes which are well acted despite not having much subtext to chew on.
Reece Shearsmith’s Whitehead is a cowardly man tasked with bringing to justice Michael Smiley’s O’Neil. The tale ropes in three other characters played by Julian Braratt, Peter Ferdinando, and Ryan Pope. There are basic conflicts enacted between them, and some friendships born from the ensuing madness, but don’t get your hopes up too much as the madness is only fleeting and not as crazy as I’d hoped it would be.
There are dodgy mushrooms ingested, but there’s also the hint of actual occult magic going on, resulting in surreal mind trips worthy of Kubrick’s 2001 opus, though mercifully short in comparison. In fact the film is longer than it needs to be anyway, a problem prevalent in 90% of modern cinema releases.
So it’s Wheatley’s experiment with alternative narrative, and one you can skip, unless you’re fine with abstract ambient moodscapes assaulting your senses with no conventional plot or resolution. But at the very least the film does not diminish his skill behind the camera, there are gorgeous shots peppered throughout and entertaining interplay between some of the characters. During the surreal imagery, it also occurred to me for some reason, if anyone has to direct an adaptation of Japanese manga Akira, I wouldn’t mind seeing him take a crack at it with his lo-fi sensibility.
He is very much a director with vision and unafraid of risk, which is great for film fans. Here’s hoping he and writer Amy Jump can follow up with a more rich tale populated with depth and not as barren as a field in England.