An alternative guide to Ben Wheatley
Brighton-based director Ben Wheatley's latest film, Free Fire, sees him direct a horde of the world’s finest screen actors and has acquired the blessing of Martin Scorsese, on board as executive producer. Starring the Oscar-winning Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy, Free Fire is the story of a warehouse meeting between underworld figures and a botched gun deal.
Despite Wheatley's elevation into mainstream cinema, some of his best work resides outside of his six feature films. As cinema goers enjoy Wheatley's latest offering, here are the lesser known works we should revisit.
Before making his way into television and film, Wheatley was known for making viral videos and short form content in the early 2000s. One of the very first videos that attracted attention was the crudely-made 'Cunning Stunt', depicting 'Down Terrace' and 'Kill List' actor Rob Hill leaping over a car, before being flattened by another. Created and uploaded in 2 hours, it was a modest masterpiece that soon garnered over 15 million hits. The grisly-yet-cheery nature is a hallmark of the director’s work, and is still present in his films today: the 'cheese knife’ scene from 'High-Rise' being a perfect example…
U is for Unearthed
Whilst 2011’s 'Kill List' clearly contained elements of horror cinema, it was never intending to be a pure horror film. Cue 'U for Unearthed' - Wheatley’s segment from the anthology film 'The ABCs of Death.' For my money, this 3-minute film from the perspective of a vampire is among Ben Wheatley’s greatest films. Combining inventive POV camerawork from regular collaborator Laurie Rose, and guttural, crunching sound design, the film envelops you and seeps beneath your skin. The film smartly inverts the roles of the Monster and the normal in a short space of time, and features the ever-lovely Neil Maskell wielding a pair of pliers.
Editors - 'Formaldehyde'
A lone figure dressed in black, complete with Stetson and spurred boots, drags a coffin through the centre of an empty wild west township. Shot on the aged sets of Sergio Leone’s 'Once Upon a Time in the West,' Ben Wheatley’s first foray into the music video was, of course, a western. Before long the film descends into lunacy: strange masked figures begin to appear, and the corpse inside the coffin doesn’t seem as still as it once was. In the words of Kevin Jagernauth of IndieWire: “Yep, sounds like Wheatley.” The 'Free Fire' director has since collaborated with Radiohead in creating a short video for their track 'Ful Stop.'
Like a lot of directors, Wheatley has directed his fair share of TV ads in his time: GoCompare, Innocent Smoothies, and most recently, Premier Inn have worked with the director to produce engaging, fun commercials. Though not the most glamourous of Wheatley’s work, it still showcases his filmic talent and punchy, tight direction – especially prominent in the Premier Inn ‘Presentation’ ad. Despite the lack of his trademark ultra-violence and gore, it’s clear that behind it all is the anarchic director we all know and love.
Ben Wheatley’s two entries into the world of 'Doctor Who' were memorable ones; his directorial debut for the show was the introduction of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor. The combination of the two made 'Doctor Who' exciting again – Wheatley’s fluid direction suited Capaldi’s darker Doctor and was a sharp U-turn from the more comedic fare that had come before. His second episode, 'Into the Dalek,' cinematically pushed the boundaries of British primetime television, including unbroken takes, a strong use of colour, and pleasingly warped footage. A scene from the episode that combines all three of these elements– where the Doctor passes through the eye of a Dalek – includes some of the most beautiful, abstract footage that I’ve ever seen on the BBC.