Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Ben Wheatley
A scientist (Joel Fry) and park scout (Ellora Torchia) find themselves attacked and abandoned by unseen forces in the woods while taking essential equipment to a research base.
Since cinemas have reopened here in the UK highlights have been ones of spectacle. From the visual delights of Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train to the audience-benefitting thrills of Nobody. Now, Ben Wheatley throws his latest, In The Earth, into the ring. Wheatley returns to low budget horror with a true visual, and audible attack. Following scientist Martin (Joel Fry) and park scout Alma (Ellora Torchia) on a two day trek through the woods in order to deliver essential equipment to a research base, led by Hayley Squires’ Olivia, trying to find a cure for an unnamed pandemic.
However, the pair find themselves attacked and abandoned in the middle of the night by an unseen force. It’s just part of the fear of the unknown that Wheatley conjures up in his latest mind-melting build-up. Pagan folklore runs throughout the narrative, started by stories of the demon Parnag Fegg, alongside discussion of the belief that the woods are connected. The plant life is all one active mind. This idea is pushed further when the two are rescued by Reese Shearsmith’s terrifically dead-pan Zach, a man who appears to have been making do just fine living in the woods for an uncertain amount of time. As the pair encounter their initial saviour Wheatley camera techniques take a much more sinister turn. Simply effects such as slight wobbles or the camera being placed at an angle at a distance, in the bushes, makes it appear as if someone is watching the pair.
While we never see any sign of a force beyond that of the other human characters a true fear of the woods is created. In The Earth’s tagline could have very easily been ‘just when you thought it was safe to go back outside’. Wheatley truly manages to convey a sense of being lost in an unidentifiable expanse while also pushing the idea of claustrophobia onto the viewer. Building up to a real twisting third act that, thanks to the plot elements that come beforehand this doesn’t feel out of place or unprepared for. One that’s as striking visually and bright as the blaring, ringing of panic in your ears is. All working together, ramping up the tension from the film’s eerie chills, for an even grander impact. An impact on both the two central characters and the audience, as both find them questioning their sanity, what’s real and what’s just fiction. Things aren’t helped as the environment becomes particularly hazy and confusing.
The psychological nature isn’t the only thing that puts the audience at unease. There’s plenty of slight body horror that adds up to a great impact. Botched self-surgery using whatever’s been lying around in the woods leading to much more gory effects, all escalating bit by bit with as much effect. Wheatley proves that sometimes you don’t need heaps of detail to get a response – there’s certainly plenty enough within this feature, though. The blends of horror work well with the low-budget nature of the film and truly help to form a sense of spectacle within this pandemic venture, the film was shot during lockdown. Spectacle which deserves to be seen, was made to be seen, big and loud! A true welcome back for horror on the big screen, In The Earth will certainly make you wary about leaving the indoor confines of the cinema.
All building up to a well-executed third act mind-melter In The Earth is a true audible and visual experience. A blend of chilling tension, body horror and cinematic storytelling it’s Ben Wheatley at his finest.