SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! We are living in strange times, to say the absolute very least. Naturally, our current circumstances are rife with storytelling possibilities in all mediums, including cinema. Ben Wheatley’s In The Earth is the most inventive pandemic era story I have seen so far. It explores the spirit of isolation we’ve all been faced with for the past year. It also discusses scientific discoveries gone awry, which are always a good jump-off for horrifying science fiction/ horror hybrids such as this.
I honestly had no idea what to expect going into this, other than the fact that it was topical. I expect it to take a headlong psychedelic dive into outright psychological horror. I know other people are more familiar with Wheatley’s prior works and probably knew more about what they were getting themselves into. I have to say, though, going into this film as blind as possible makes it all the more shocking and satisfying by the time the credits roll.
In a not-so-distant future, Martin (Joel Fry), an agricultural researcher, is just coming out of a long lockdown to meet up with his former lover, a doctor named Olivia (Hayley Squires), who has been stationed deep in the forest doing scientific experiments regarding the sentience of trees and other plants. He is assisted on his journey by park ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia). Martin is certainly not a natural at camping, which is somewhat funny considering his career places him in the outdoors quite a bit. Alma is much better at the rugged outdoorsy thing, which is a great help to him. Then, on the second day of their journey, Martin gets a huge gash on his foot that delays their travel exponentially. They coincidentally (?) meet up with a man who’s illegally living in the forest, Zac (Reece Shearsmith). Zac says he can help with Martin’s foot, and they follow him to his camp, and not soon after, all sorts of peculiar hell is unleashed.
“…they follow him to his camp, and not soon after, all sorts of peculiar hell is unleashed.”
In The Earth was the first production in the United Kingdom after their first Covid-related lockdown. The safety protocols were brand new, and the movie was definitely shot in unique circumstances. Considering it was shot in just 15 days, which is an insane feat for any director, the results are magnificent. Let’s see, there’s a lot of drug-induced hallucinations, some 17th-century folklore that was wholly made up by Wheatley (which I thought was great), magic rituals, and some good old-fashioned body horror. To tell you any more about it would be criminal because, as I said earlier, it’s good to go into this as blind as possible. You’ll get shocked right out of your seat.
It won’t surprise me if In The Earth is one of the most talked-about horror films of the year. It’s wonderfully weird. Clint Mansell composed the score for the movie and incorporated sounds from plants in the music. It’s perfect for the subject matter at hand. The whole cast is fantastic, especially Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires, whose characters have spent just a little bit too much time in the woods.
Be warned that there are lots of strobing effects and some thunderous noises, which adds to the disorienting effect the film has on the viewer. If you can handle that, you must watch In The Earth as soon as you can. It’s one of the most exciting genre mashups I’ve seen in years.
Into The Earth premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…headlong psychedelic dive into outright psychological horror."