PG Score: 6.5/10
In the Earth was released in theaters on April 16th, 2021
In the Earth is an uneven indie horror experiment from Writer/Director Ben Wheatley (Kill List and Free Fire). Its bizarre presentation features flashes of brilliance but is marred by pacing problems and an unclear narrative.
Plot and Slow-Burn Horror
The film takes place during a worldwide pandemic and follows scientist Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) as he accompanies a park named Alma (Ellora Torchia) on a standard equipment run deep within the forest. Their trek grows perilous when they realize there are dark forces at work.
The slow-burn horror is a mixed bag but falls on the right side of the equation more often than not. Wheatley builds up a fair amount of tension in the first act so it is rewarding when that pays off down the line. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as some of the threads he pulls fall flat or are unrealized altogether.
While not consistently violent, there are a few graphic scenes that will be quite shocking to the squeamish. A pulse-pounding sequence in the second act is undoubtedly the best part of the movie as the veteran filmmaker expertly capitalizes on the momentum that leads up to it. The effective mixture of unsettling body horror and the inescapable feeling that the main characters are being watched allows In the Earth to get under the viewer’s skin.
Brilliant Set Pieces and Score
Wheatley’s flair for creating engrossing environments is on full display early on. As Joel and Alma traverse the treacherous terrain, the rich vegetation and dense wooded areas are depicted in vivid detail. The striking imagery is hypnotizing, and most of the first half of the 100-minute runtime feels like a surreal nature walk. The creepy electronic score from Clint Mansell adds to the entrancing ambience and elevates the cinematography. The director successfully captures the attention of his audience rather quickly, but his ability to maintain that level of engagement throughout is a different story.
As the movie nears the close of its second act, the pace slows considerably. The sudden drop-off continues to decline until any forward motion ceases altogether, and the on-screen action is stuck somewhere between frustrating and dull. In the Earth does eventually awaken from its cinematic slumber, but by then, the damage has already been done.
Too Many Unanswered Questions
There is plenty of mystery to accompany the psychedelic journey as breadcrumbs of a bigger picture are scattered throughout the protagonists’ hazardous surroundings. The movie’s many pagan references allude to foul play at the hands of a local legend by the name of Parnag Fegg. Alma is adamant that it is nothing more than an old wives’ tale, but the possible involvement of the mythical figure in the events that transpire proves to be a running theme. These sinister elements are the highlights of the plot mostly because they keep the viewer on their toes with regard to the source of the larger malevolence at hand.
The rest of the storyline does not fare so well as the film grows progressively unsure of itself as it crawls towards the climax. There are not nearly enough answers provided or even hinted at as In the Earth presses forward. It is understandable that Wheatley wants to keep his cards close to his chest, but there is such a thing as being too ambiguous. His latest outing is missing the satisfying reveal that would have helped bring this strange tale full circle.
Tough On The Senses
In the Earth contains a few jarring technical decisions that tend to overshadow its impressive visuals. In a rare occurrence, a photosensitivity warning is given at the beginning of the film. The portions that triggered this statement are drawn-out and frankly, unnecessary. The fact that these disorienting segments are used more than once is problematic, but for the most part they just feel out of place. This issue is compounded by the borderline nauseating use of the “shaky cam.” Fortunately, these wobbly shots are infrequent, but even in small doses, they are intolerable. It is baffling why either of these methods were implemented in the first place.
Joel Fry delivers a decent performance as Martin. The character is not very deep so the role does not call for high-level acting. Ellora Torchia is adequate in her portrayal of Alma, who is another relatively basic character so once again, a strong performance is not required. Hayley Squires makes good use of her limited screen time as the eccentric Olivia Wendle. The standout of the small cast is Reece Shearsmith as Zach. The actor brings the appropriate energy and necessary skill to the more layered part as he steals every scene he is in.
Far From Perfect, But Worth A Watch
Ben Wheatley’s hallucinogenic woodland nightmare is flawed, but his unique vision and daring execution make it worth digging In the Earth.