The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - IN THE EARTH | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - IN THE EARTH

New to Netflix - IN THE EARTH
A scientist and a park ranger run into trouble in the woods.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Joel Fry, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires, Ellora Torchia, John Hollingworth, Mark Monero

in the earth poster

Opening with a visual nod to the trippy 1969 TV series The Owl Service and with early references to a woodland spirit named Parnag Fegg (say that name quickly and it sounds a lot like Alan Clarke's Penda's Fen), writer/director Ben Wheatley's In the Earth promises some good old British folk-horror. What an anti-climax then when the movie ultimately morphs into a generic backwoods slasher garnished with some metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.

in the earth review

Inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wheatley's film posits a world ravaged by a mystery virus. After spending months in isolation following the deaths of his parents, scientist Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) arrives at a research station on the outskirts of a giant forest. His plan is to join his former colleague Olivia Wendle (Hailey Squires) in her experiments to increase crop efficiency. To do so, he must endure a two day hike through the vast woods, guided by park ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia).

It's not long before the pair run into trouble. After finding a discarded tent that appears to belong to a family, they are attacked and knocked unconscious by unseen assailants. Waking in a groggy state and with their boots stolen, they continue hiking, coming across Zach (Reece Shearsmith), a hermit who lives in the woods and worships an entity he refers to as "him".

in the earth review

Along with Nina of the Woods and Gaia, In the Earth is the third 2021 film I've seen that employs the notion that a forested area is drawing its protagonists to become "one with nature", that the forest is alive like The Zone of Tarkovsky's Stalker or the contaminated area of Alex Garland's Annihilation. None of the three movies manage to do anything interesting with this curious concept, and Wheatley's film is the weakest of the lot.

Apparently Wheatley knocked out the script in two weeks and rushed into production during a limited post-lockdown window last summer. And it shows. This script really needs a few more runs through the word processor to find a story worth telling. After setting the mood as its two protagonists venture into the woods, it suddenly veers into torture porn territory with the arrival of Shearsmith's Zach. With ill-fitting comic beats and bodily trauma played for laughs, Wheatley seems to be aiming for a tone close to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series, which just doesn't gel with the folk-horror trappings.

in the earth review

As with his English civil-war folk-horror A Field in England, Wheatley seems to once again run out of ideas in the final act of In the Earth, when he loads up the FX bank of his editing software and pummels the viewer with "psychedelic" visuals - i.e. rapid cutting and flashing strobe lights. Heavy man! After the muted response to his bland Rebecca remake, Wheatley wanted to get back to his low-budget roots, but with each new movie he makes, it seems the British auteur is moving further away from the talent teased in Down Terrace and Kill List.

In the Earth is on Netflix UK/ROI now.