IN THE EARTH (15, 108 min.), Drama, horror, sci-fi, thriller
Starring: Joel Fry, Ellora Torachi, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Published: June 18, only in the cinema cinema
IF YOU go into the woods today, pray you won’t run into any of the people in Ben Wheatley’s new psychedelic horror thriller, In The Earth.
Wheatley’s extremely atmospheric film is set after an unspecified pandemic (In The Earth was written, filmed, edited, and published during the ongoing pandemic), the dark comedic misfortune of the unfortunate scientist Martin (Joel Fry), an enigmatic character who emerged from lockdown loneliness to participate in a UK government study of the Mycorrhizal Fungal Network: It aims to connect every forest around the world and accelerate the return of society to normal by helping to increase crop yields.
The remote Gantalow Lodge was requisitioned for the program, with Martin and the able park ranger guide Alma (Ellora Torchai) venturing deep into the “unusually fertile” surrounding forests in search of Chief Boffin Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires).
Schocker: The forests are apparently inhabited / haunted by an old ghost, Parnag Fegg. A tourist attraction in the truest sense of the word, it is part of the area’s folklore – and the various myths, legends, and rituals associated with it have apparently begun to affect even the most thought ofly scientific minds.
Hairy supercreep Zach (a kindly malicious Reece Shearsmith), for example, has made it his business to live alone in a makeshift forest camp, where he can better develop his interest in amateur photography, body modification, booby traps, and naturally occurring sedatives.
Martin and Alma’s initial discomfort soon leads to a downright struggle for survival and sanity in a film that hilariously combines visceral horror – there are some very gross, but often very funny moments of body blood – with a tense cat and mouse thrills, stylishly packaged with Wheatley’s trademark, visually captivating forays into lively moments of psychedelic confusion outdoors (see also A Field In England).
Clint Mansell’s excellent electronic film music pulsates and purrs worryingly, his vintage synth styling reinforces the pleasant “Low Budget British Science Fiction” atmosphere of the 1970s, while forest noises – bird calls, creaking, cracking and groaning branches, ground crunching underfoot, Seed capsules burst etc – are thick in the mix, highlighting the ubiquity of another key figure: nature itself.
In The Earth, a new science fiction / horror skew adds to our understanding of what is known as the ‘Forest Wide Web’, focusing on how and why humanity might try to communicate with it. At the end of the film in which Dr. Wendle playfully tries a deafening “live remix” of forest noises amidst an epilepsy-inducing stroboscopic light in the manner of an insane Delia Derbyshire, you will either be fully on board with Wheatley’s spirit and biosphere-twisting vision or swear never to leave town again. Or possibly both.