Dark Folkloric Horror Is Found In The Earth (2021)
Title: In the Earth
First Non-Festival Release: April 16, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Ben Wheatley
Runtime: 107 Minutes
Starring: Ellora Torchia, Joel Fry, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Martin (Joel Fry) journeys to a remote outpost before making an even more lengthy trip to bring equipment to a scientist (Hayley Squires) working deep in the forest. Park scout Alma (Ellora Torchia) guides him on the journey. It’s not long before they experience the worst that the forest has to offer and are beaten and robbed their very first night. They seek shelter in the tent of a wizened old hermit who seems kind at first before showing a more sinister side. They soon learn his intentions with them are far more terrifying than anything they can predict and must work to survive their experience.
A sleepy and hypnotic creep fest, In the Earth dazzles with sinister imagery and a sizzling slow-burn story.
Unexpected turns and stunning visuals differentiate In the Earth from most other recent horror releases. Opting for a slow-burn approach to horror that director Ben Wheatley is best known for, In the Earth simmers with tension as its dark story of man’s relationship with nature unfolds. The intimacy of the film is marked by its small cast of characters, which makes the vast forest feel confined and claustrophobic the deeper they venture into its depths. Wheatley does a great job of creating tension and suspense in the film, escalating it from the beginning to an almost unbearable conclusion. Moments or gestures that would otherwise seem innocuous are met with skepticism and paranoia, but there’s no choice but to progress anyway.
Characters encounter unexplainable things in the woods which uncovers a sort of sinister energy and beauty about it. From strobe lights, mist, and red lighting, the terror is palpable as the protagonists learn more about the fall of two scientists succumbing to visions in the woods. The reveal doesn’t disappoint either. Fantastic sound, light, and editing amps up the hallucination and ritual sequences to create a truly hypnotic viewing experience that does beg the question: is the forest alive? In the Earth asks its audience to consider the role humans have in destroying themselves over answers they cannot comprehend.
A modern take on folklore mixed with a timely contagion subplot, In the Earth explores some of the most primal questions humans can ask. Each character represents a level of interest, or disinterest, in seeking out the answers to these questions and how it changes them throughout their journeys. It almost feels like a fairy tale in the way it plays out, with the portrayal of science as a ritualistic artform as opposed to its typically sterile approach to these same questions in reality.
In the Earth is not without its problems. Sometimes the decisions to show more restraint hold the film back from its terrifying potential. It doesn’t take long for Martin and Alma to learn how deadly the forest can be, especially when sinister forces lurk within. The problem lies in how it lays out its journey. Danger in this film feels artificial in a way. Our protagonists seem to conveniently escape at every turn no matter how unrealistic it ends up being. It’s not the worst problem a film can have but it does feel frustrating to watch it play out repeatedly. I also wish we learned more about Olivia and her story. It’s clear the effects of the forest changed her differently compared to Zach, but it feels like a missed opportunity.
Slow but unnerving, In the Earth is an excellent little flick from acclaimed horror director Ben Wheatley. Powerful and scary at times, In the Earth is a gradual descent into a powerfully primal finale that gets surprisingly brutal and fantastic at once. This film is a definite recommend from me, even if it doesn’t quite hit on all cylinders for me. It is, however, an incredibly well-crafted and meaty film that is sure to satisfy most horror fans cravings for contemporary folk horror. You won’t have to travel far to see In the Earth so what are you waiting for?
Overall Score? 7/10