In the Earth (2021) – Reel Review

Director: Ben Wheatley | 1h 47mins | Thriller, Sci-Fi, Horror

During a global pandemic a scientist (Joel Fry) and a Park Ranger (Ellora Torchia) venture into the forest to find a research hub. After being left shoeless and robbed, the two begin to learn about the forest’s deep-rooted myth. 

Although the pandemic has been an arduous experience for the world-over some directors have used it as a creative outlet. To test the meaning of confined filmmaking and create something safely despite the setbacks caused by COVID-19. One of the more memorable takes on pandemic filmmaking was Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie, a considerably talky affair that Levinson used as an outlet to vent his frustrations with critics. Ben Wheatley’s newest film is the polar opposite, a hypnotic and rough-around-the-edges trip that feels like a shot of pure cinema. 

Because of the filming conditions Wheatley opts for a small cast which, aside from a few opening figures, consists of four people. Joel Fry, mostly known for his comedic turns, is able to add some astonishingly dark humour to the isolated story, whereas Ellora Torchia is wonderfully frantic as the pace of the film begins to grow. As for Hayley Squires and Reece Shearsmith, their seemingly kind demeanours are wonderfully balanced by an obsessive and unsettling connection to the mythic powers (or scientific wonder) of the forest. 

After traipsing through a desolate forest for a couple of days Fry and Torchia are attacked and robbed. Their lack of resources now leads them to Zach’s house (Reece Shearsmith), where the mythical side of Wheatley’s film begins to take hold. Zach, after drugging and serenading the pair, begins to explain how the forest – seen as a god of some sort – needs to be worshipped through arts and sacrifice, making his drugged guests pose for cult-like pictures with twig-crowns and biblical poses. Although the shock and fear begins to fade away after a while, Wheatley reminds us just how shocking he can be – something he continues throughout the film. 

After an eye-wrenching amputation scene that’s equal parts funny and horrific, Wheatley delves more into the how and why of his film’s premise. It may be a lot of information streamlined into your brain but what the director does so well is embrace the mythical while following the logical. A mash-up of realism and folklore horror that’s similar to the director’s previous effort, Kill List (2011). Here the cinematic experience begins to take hold as we are bombarded with flashing images and an ear-rattling thump of diegetic sound. Characters roll around on the ground in agony as they succumb to the experience and we, as the audience, find ourselves right there with them – not in pain however, but in awe of the hypnotic visuals that Wheatley has put in front of us.

Although you may be sick of the pandemic-based stories, what Wheatley has done is use his skills as a director to work within the confines of a worldwide obstruction. The odd use of hand sanitiser, mask wearing and isolation will remind you just where we are as a planet, but as In the Earth builds you’ll be overcome by the violent and hypnotic visual that is in front of you. Wheatley has shown versatility and uniqueness over his career and while this may not be his best, it certainly ushers in a wonderful return to the cinematic experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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