I have read only one J.G. Ballard novel though I have seen a couple of films adapted from his books. I thought I had seen more than one of Ben Wheatley’s movies, but it turns out I’ve just seen one. On paper, I think I can probably see the Ballard-Wheatley pairing as a match made in heaven but at least one problem with it is that I’m not sure I like either of them.
This is a bizarre story which, of course it is because Ballard wrote it. And it isn’t exactly believable, though I’m not sure that’s ever the thing with Ballard’s stuff. (It’s more social comment!) Though Wheatley might be the man to handle this film in terms of how hallucinogenic the story is, I’m not sure he was the right person for other reasons. One of the things that frustrated me about this movie is that it felt like a different filmmaker might have made me enjoy it. A lot.
However, I have a hard time being fair to this film because, approximately 40 minutes into it, the weed cookie I ate kicked in. I hadn’t eaten one in a few years (at least) and this one was apparently quite strong. Let me tell you that this film is not the right film to watch while stoned. (Strange Brew worked out much better for me.) So you’ll have to take a lot of what I say with a rather large grain of salt.
Everyone is awful in this film, but that isn’t always a problem for me. Here, it was because they seemed awful but then they got so much more awful, and it felt like there was never a “tipping point.” I’m sure there’s an intelligent observation here about the nature of “evil” – how it’s on a spectrum – but it still felt as though their insane behaviour later in the movie was not exactly earned. Wheatley loves his visuals and there are way too many montages in this movie. More than once it felt like a montage was substituting for character development, dialogue and plot. And the whole thing reeks a little bit of a condo version of “The Stanford Prison Experiment” on acid. Ballard didn’t know it was fake when he wrote the novel, but we can suppose that the filmmakers might have, right? (Jenn called it ‘Snowpiercer on acid.’ But I’d add that it lacks the obvious social comment of Snowpiercer. Or the story….This story is more about the evils of technology than class, though the class element is still there.)
I don’t remember A Field in England any more but my review tells me I laughed a lot. I didn’t laugh enough at this film, and what’s worse is that I was stoned out of my gourd for over half of it, and still not laughing. For me, films like this, with such awful people, and with not nice things to say about society and technology, need to be funny for them to land. And this was sporadically funny, but not funny enough.
And that’s a shame, because the thing has good bones. The cast was great. The set design was fun as were the costumes. And it really does feel like there’s a good movie hiding here somewhere, under the endless montages and extreme behaviour from all the characters.
Still, I’ve never quite seen anything like it.