Not many directors can claim that they have an impeccable filmography. Even some of the greats have their duds. Spielberg has Hook. Fincher has Alien 3. But, so far, Ben Wheatley’s filmography is stellar.
Now, his directorial style isn’t to everyone’s taste. His focus can be alienating to some, and his stylised approach may irritate others. But there is certainly no British director currently shaking up the world of cinema quite like Ben Wheatley, and for that I am immensely grateful.
With this in mind, and with his latest feature Free Fire approaching release, why not take a closer a look at his work so far?
Down Terrace (2009)
Wheatley’s debut feature took a fresh and blackly comedic approach to the British crime genre. The tale of a criminal’s search for the snitch in his operation whilst managing his dysfunctional relationship with his family and friends relies heavily on the interchange between characters rather than excessive violence as one would expect. Wheatley’s subverting of the genre makes for compelling and often hilarious viewing, with the occasional brutality giving it the bite to make it a solid and impactful debut.
Kill List (2011)
The first of Wheatley’s films to prove incredibly divisive amongst viewers, the crime thriller turned psychological horror again shows the versatility and originality of his directorial style. A solider turned contract killer descends into madness as his employer raises the profile of his targets. Kill List is not an easy watch, but it is a necessary one. Wheatley shows his true mastery with some mind-blowing foreshadowing, and the film is an absolute masterclass in editing. The hammer scene alone will have you questioning, ‘how the fuck did they film that?’
An outright black comedy, Sightseers once again shows Wheatley’s impressive range behind the camera. He expertly combines gore and horror into the humorous narrative, which focuses on a couple taking a nightmarish caravan holiday. Wheatley draws out belly-laugh performances from his central duo, which is impressive given how effortlessly deadpan they are. It might be a more obvious approach to cinema than his earlier efforts, but Wheatley shows that he is more than capable of handling more audience-friendly material.
The ABCs of Death – U is for Unearthed (2012)
Only have 3-and-a-half minutes to film a segment for your anthology horror flick? Ben Wheatley laughs in your face and delivers one of the best segments of the movie. Shot entirely from the POV of the monster, Wheatley’s short segment is intense, frantic and brutal. Wheatley evokes more of a reaction from the audience in 3 minutes than some do over the course of a feature. Impressive stuff.
A Field in England (2013)
Easily the most divisive of Wheatley’s films, A Field in England pulls no punches for its audience. He once again combines two of his favourite genres, horror and psychological drama, and weaves them into a visceral and hallucinogenic English Civil War narrative. Shot in black-and-white, the lack of colour only serves to make the film more disturbing, and never has a film since The Shining made me feel so genuinely uncomfortable.
Wheatley’s most mainstream picture to date, High-Rise is still a mind-bending, thought-provoking thriller. A bigger budget and high-profile cast have obviously not affected Wheatley’s filmmaking, with his stylised approach and pitch-black humour still shining through. He also shows his capability of dealing with abstract source materials. Given how Ballard’s novel has been cited as almost impossible to film, Wheatley (and Amy Jump) do phenomenally well. This isn’t the best work in his filmography, but it’s the best example of his unique and subverting directorial style reaching the masses, and that makes me very happy.
With early reviews of Free Fire showing overwhelming praise, the future is clearly incredibly bright for Ben Wheatley, and therefore the future of British cinema.