May 04, 2021
By Josh Senior
One of the most innovative and distinctive contemporary British filmmakers, releasing a psychedelic horror film?… Yes please.
Ben Wheatley’s return to cinema is a welcome one, especially after the draining reality of 2020, to step back into his twisted vision of reality feels like a blood drenched arm around the shoulder, not nice, but oddly reassuring.
In The Earth was devised during lockdown in the UK, and is almost a response piece to the very real horrors of the outside world.
Wheatley uses the new normal to tell this chamber piece about a scientist, Martin and his park ranger guide Alma, whose routine equipment run quickly descends into chaos when they are intercepted by a somewhat hermit named Zach, he offers the pair shelter but the exchange is far more sinister than they could ever have imagined. At the centre of the forest a hypnotic structure seems to be guiding Zach, which leaves Martin and Alma forced to make a daring escape, in an attempt to save themselves. From here the film steps off into the surreal and morphs into something else entirely.
It immediately feels like a Wheatley film from the get-go, the tensions escalating quickly and then veering rapidly into balletic violence. Wheatley’s fixation on moments of searing gore are always stomach churning, and he clearly revels in the ability to make the viewer recoil, with this being possibly the closest he’s gotten to his sophomore feature Kill List in the violence stakes.
Wheatley excels in these contained narratives with only a handful of characters, his films often feel very small and claustrophobic, think the corridors of High Rise, the caravan in Sightseers or the warehouse in Free Fire – with the forest here being the very living and breathing thing holding the protagonists hostage.
It melds elements of psychedelia, horror and science fiction to great effect, and draws comparisons to other contemporary horror flicks such as Annihilation and Midsommar particularly considering the ecological factors within the narrative itself.
Where it stands in Wheatley’s expanded filmography remains to be seen, at times it lacks the humour of his other films and delves deeper into the horror, which may be your preference – but it feels a tad more dry than some of his more recent efforts. However, for a film devised, written and filmed during a global pandemic it’s a testament to Wheatley’s filmmaking talents and shows that even under extreme limitations he still has a unique ability to tell stories.
The most enjoyable thing about In The Earth, as that it’s nothing like it’s promotional campaign suggests and constantly twists and flips on itself.. if you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.
Author rating: 7/10
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