This is the latest film from that Ben Wheatley guy, who made Kill List, which I have yet to see.
This one is set during the English Civil War (actually during the Second Civil War, history fans, as there is a reference at one point to the Engagers; see dull historical note below), which made it essential viewing for me as that is one of my most beloved periods of history. It focuses on four guys pegging it from a battle (battle not shown for budgetary reasons). Three of them are soldiers and the other is something else - some kind of scholarly servant of someone who has had things taken from him. Quite what he is doing in the battle in the first place is not adequately explained, like much of what happens in the rest of the film.
The four guys tramp across some fields looking for a pub one of them reckons is in the vicinity, but then a series of transitions occurs. One of the four is not what he seems. A fifth character appears, one with his own sinister agenda. There is a wonderfully horrible scene in which he takes the scholar into a tent and does something to him, something that makes him scream while the others stand outside looking horrified. Then the stranger brings out the scholar who seems physically unharmed, yet somehow transformed.
The film is notable for its strange logical leaps and discontinuities. The characters are doing one thing - and then they are doing something else. Some events occur that do not seem to make any sense at all (like the rope they are all pulling on at one point, what was that all about?) And there are a series of odd tableaux in which they seem to be posing like characters in a painting for the camera (of which some feature in the clip above). In these regards it reminds me more of a continental European arthouse film of the 1970s more than anything else being made around now.
What it does have is a great visual look. It is filmed in black and white, which suits the odd and surreal nature of the film (though lurid colour probably would have done the same). The baggy 17th century costumes are wonderfully realised and did have me thinking that it would be great if people started dressing like that again. And there is a fantastic representation of the effects of imbibing magic mushrooms (it is that kind of film).
The sound is also intriguing. There is some old English folk music, sung by the character themselves. The overall soundtrack mixes in folky motifs with orchestral and electronic sounds to create a generally disconcerting aural environment, mirroring the fear and confusion of the characters. The soundtrack is mostly by Benjamin Power, but a pre-existing piece by Blanck Mass called 'Chernobyll' also makes an appearance.
Overall, this is an intriguing if perplexing film. I think it is one best appreciated by people who enjoy the feel and atmosphere of films rather than their simple plots.
Dull Historical Note
The First English Civil War is the famous one in which the armies of the King and Parliament laid into each other at such battles as Edgehill, Marson Moor and Naseby. Parliament allied with the Scots and eventually overwhelmed the King. He surrendered to the Scots and they handed him over to Parliamentary forces.
The Second Civil War was an attempt by the King's party to reverse the results of the first. English Royalists staged a number of uprisings. The imprisoned King also reached a secret alliance (known as the Engagement) with some of the Scots. This Scottish faction, known as the Engagers, sent an army into England. However the Parliamentary armies were able to crush the Engagers and the English Royalists, after which the King was put on trial and executed.
None of this historical information is needed to enjoy the film; I have merely posted it to show how clever I am.
An inuit panda production