Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires and Reece Shearsmith
Just before the pandemic happened, Ben Wheatley was set to direct the sequel to 2018’s Tomb Raider. As with everybody’s plans, thanks to Covid, this fell through. While in lockdown he started writing and one of things that came out of that was the script to In The Earth. Quickly filmed and after being shown at festivals finally has a UK cinema release.
In The Earth follows Martin Lowery, played by Joel Fry, as he travels to a camp in the middle of a forest as part of a research project to increase the efficiency of growing crops. The beginning feels all too real and familiar as Martin has to be quarantined, sanitised and tested before he can enter the forest. Met at the door of a once busy tourist resort by face mask wearing men who spray him and complete tests before allowing him to continue. Two years ago, this would have felt almost post-apocalyptic, now it feels normal. Martin is guided through the forest by ranger Alma, played by Ellora Torchia. they eventually run into Zack, Reece Shearsmith, who at first appears to help them.
Straight from the opening shot, In The Earth, is an attack on your senses. It starts with rocks being smashed, with each crash echoes out and rings through you. The sound design is incredible. Even before the film takes it’s more abstract approach to horror the sounds of the birds ravage your ears. It never lets you feel safe. This mixed with the striking visuals and abstract hallucination sequences will leave you exhausted by the time the credits roll around. It’s visceral and you can almost taste forest air. The film even comes with a photosensitive epilepsy warning, and it needs one. It could probably do with a noise warning as well. It’s loud and the later half of this film is almost a rave, with how brutal the flashing lights and pulsing sounds are.
Reece Shearsmith is fantastic as Zack. While his humour is still evident, he plays a very sinister character who has a haunting presence on screen. He is genuinely scary and the dark and deadpan humour is often lost in the creeping terror that is Zack. He quickly turns on Martin and Alma and the section at his camp is the most horrific.
In the Earth is unsettling and frightening. From the beginning you can feel that something is off, and as you go further on the journey nothing is safe. There almost isn’t a moment in the film where you feel that the characters aren’t in immediate danger. The moment it turns bad it stays bad. When Martin and Alma get to their destination, for a moment you feel that you can relax and take a breath again, but it doesn’t last long. The events from earlier start echoing and the tension starts to build again.
The body horror is stomach churning. From deep gouges to chopped toes, this will make your feet curl and your eyes wince. There’s not an overwhelming amount, but when it happens, it gruesome and sickening.
The only real issue with the film is the characters. Throughout you don’t learn enough about Martin. His history is told through snippets, but you won’t feel like you really know him. If the film gave you more to care about with his character, then the horror towards the end would be effective. As it stands, he is a placeholder for you to transit into this world.
In The Earth is a pretty great film. It’s a less trippy, more British version of Alex Garland’s Annihilation from 2018. If you liked that, then you are in very safe hands with Ben Wheatley as he returns to the type of horror films he’s well known for. It’s tense and there is a growing sense of dread that envelops you and drags you into the world of the film. Definitely not one for the faint of heart.