We celebrate the British filmmaker taking his biggest swipe yet at the mainstream this month with Meg 2: The Trench by declaring him our Filmmaker of the Month.
Every month, The Spool chooses to highlight a filmmaker whose works have made a distinct mark on the cinematic landscape.
With his love of mixing horror, dark comedy, and crime Ben Wheatley has been flirting with but never breaking through to the mainstream. However, this month that may all change. With that in mind, we’re excited to dive deep into his eclectic filmography.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movies being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Ben Wheatley began his career on the internet. On message boards and his personal website with wife and frequent collaborator Amy Jump—the lost to the sands of time MrandMrsWheatley.com—Wheatley shared short films and animations that began to gain attention. However, his first paid gigs came not in film and television but in advertising. Three years before his feature directing debut, Down Terrace, Wheatley collected the Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the advertising equivalent of France’s film festival.
From the start, Wheatley’s work has been marked by some combination of three preoccupations—crime, horror, and dark-as-pitch humor—frequently all three at once. Coming in the wake of a previous wave of British filmmakers like Guy Ritchie and Danny Boyle, Wheatley’s work shared some with their earlier eras. However, in execution, his peer Matthew Vaughan ended up being more their stylistic successor. On the other hand, Wheatley favored the similar aged but starting earlier Shane Meadows. There was a noticeably dirtier, scrappier aesthetic to Wheatley’s early works. His characters were less clever, less quick with a line, and often less charismatic.
He also has struggled more to tap into the mainstream than Ritchie, Boyle, or Vaughan. Even as his budgets and access to more recognizable talent have increased, his mainstream success largely has not. His biggest “triumph” to date is 2020’s Rebecca. It was the most-watched film on Netflix the week of release and finished in the top 20 for 2020. However, with no theatrical release outside of Britain, it being an attempt to remake one of Hitchcock’s most recognized films, and largely negative reviews dampened enthusiasm.
In light of his remaining more mainstream adjacent that mainstream and his previous aversion to slickness—his slickest effort to date, Free Fire, remains more filthy and bitter than glossy and clever—Meg 2: The Trench becomes all the more fascinating. How does a maker of disquieting and down-to-earth portraits of low-level thugs and serial killers end up chronicling the further adventures of a giant, murderous prehistoric shark? How will he deploy a reported budget of 100 million dollars, ten times higher than his next most pricey film? When the director has previously favored horrors of a psychological and psychedelic variety, what about a straight creature feature brought him in? Even the film’s style of humor, if its previous installment is any indication, doesn’t seem in his wheelhouse. It promises to be broader and less stick-in-your-throat than what Wheatley usually favors.
On the other hand, perhaps Wheatley’s been heading in this direction longer than audiences realized. After all, he hasn’t worked with his longtime cinematographer Laurie Rose since Rebecca. He hasn’t written or edited with his wife Jump for even longers, since Free Fire. Maybe The Meg 2 is simply the latest and most noticeable step in his evolution.
Whatever the case may be, the director intrigues us. And in the dog days of summer, when Hollywood frequently seems content to deliver outright dogs to cinemas everywhere, being intrigued is fun. That’s why Ben Wheatley is our pick for August 2023’s Filmmaker of the Month.