When director Ben Wheatley announced that he too was joining the pandemic filmmakers club with In The Earth, a film he shot over the course of 15 days in August 2020, this reviewer was not quite sure what to expect. Wheatley had cut his teeth working in high genre films such as Free Fire and High Rise, but this was the first time one of his films was being positioned as a full blown horror film. Not only was it a smaller project compared to what he’s usually done but also working in a genre he hasn’t worked in for a number of years. What would be the result of this “experiment”?
In The Earth is not at all what one would expect.
The film follows Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) and Alma (Ellora Torchia) as they traverse a virus infested world to deliver supplies and research to another settlement. With this simple premise the events of the film are set into motion and the premise is the only aspect of the film that is simple by any definition of the word. Quickly In the Earth becomes a nightmare fueled frenzy of pandemic anxieties such as remaining clean in a pandemic infested world and the fear of human interaction in times of crisis. It’s easy to write off this aspect of the film as we’re currently living through a worldwide pandemic ourselves but the film manages to do it tastefully and without insulting its audience or seeming exploitative. The film gives us ample time to spend with Martin and Alma in order to fully flesh out their characters while keeping a mysterious barrier up so as to not reveal its cards too soon.
When Martin and Alama venture out into the woods is when the nightmare starts. Out in the field they quickly encounter Zach (Reece Shearsmith) and Olivia (Hayley Squires). Soon the film pivots to an examination of folklore legend in a modern context and truly turns into a mind melting chain of events. In the Earth provides some uncomfortable set pieces and wince inducing gore; though this also causes the film’s biggest weakness in that its tone at times feels wildly inconsistent. At one moment you have a simple virus infection film, the next a brutal slasher, and eventually what feels like a full blown Daft Punk concert.
The strong cast performances and wicked sharp directing will keep audiences engaged and the film provides some nightmarish visuals. Though at times it may feel inconsistent, In The Earth is one of the few pandemic films that manages to bring our current fears to the forefront under the guise of folk horror and a story that refuses to hold your hand. Though it may not be for everyone (those with sensitivity to flashing lights need not apply), In The Earth succeeds in what it sets out to do.
In The Earth is available in cinemas from April 30th
by Reyna Cervantes