In the Earth Movie Review
As a deadly pandemic rages, a doctor looks to the forest for answers--only to find horror instead--in the new Ben Wheatley film In the Earth, an absorbing and chilling thriller that, while not perfect, is worth every minute.
Writer/director Wheatley started writing the movie on the first day of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown back in March 2020 and filmed it in secret over the summer using minimal cast and crew. And yet nothing about In the Earth feels rushed or heavy-handed, our current real-world circumstances only a jumping off point for this creative dive into the surreal.
In the Earth works best when Wheatley stays focused on the grounded; despite great performances by Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia, it’s the frightening, disconnected, and off-kilter turn by Reece Shearsmith that looms largest. Even when he is neither on-screen nor the most immediate threat, his presence as the calm but terrifying Zach lurks in the shadows.
It’s a shame that Wheatley doesn’t remain focused on him, though some--not so much me--will appreciate his shift to the surreal in the third act. With hints of Annihilation, but on a bad LSD trip, the movie goes full psychedelic in the end… not my cup of earthen tea. While visually compelling especially given what must be a minimal budget, In the Earth unfortunately ends on a low note.
Even still, there is too much to like to pass this up. Wheatley’s plunge is reminiscent of In the Heart of Darkness, a multitude of threats both physical and psychological haunting the protagonist as they venture ever deeper. The grounded body horror is aces, not over the top but more than enough to make you squirm. And Wheatley maintains an elegant pace, refusing to rush the story but keeping any fat on the cutting room floor.
This movie was reviewed as part of coverage of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.