#REVIEW: “IN THE EARTH”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
A deadly virus is ravaging the world and Dr. Olivia Wendle’s (Hayley Squires) research may be the key to a cure. Her colleague Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry, who you might recognize from Danny Boyle’s Yesterday) is worried about his friend when she suddenly goes radio silent, so he sets out on a two-day trek alongside park scout Alma (Ellora Torchia) to find Wendle’s research post. Their journey will be anything but easy.
I was initially very skeptical of Writer/Director Ben Wheatley’s motivations behind In the Earth. We learn there is an on-going pandemic affecting the Film’s characters immediately, and the way they employ masks, sanitizer and social distancing felt all too eerie and familiar. While so many of us have been stuck at home over the past year, this tumultuous period continues to inspire Filmmakers to center their films around Covid-19 or something horrible just like it. The sky has been the limit genre-wise, and it has been taxing seeing our horrible real life circumstances being played out for entertainment on our TV screens (or if you are lucky, on that big theatrical screen so many of us want to get back to). Thankfully, Wheatley’s tale is nothing like those countless other films and only uses the pandemic as a means of grounding In the Earth in some semblance of reality before pivoting into something very different.
That very different pivot turns out to be a mix of Cerebral and Folk Horror that has all the enigmatic and frustrating hallmarks of Wheatley’s previous work. In some sections, he digs deep to spin a tale about nature that may take a few journeys into hell to wrap your head around. In others, he digs into sinister rituals that lead to some truly gnarly bits of Body Horror. The pain inflicted on-screen is extreme and grotesque and left me grimacing in disgust multiple times. Gore hounds will not be disappointed. The Film gets much of its energy from these moments, amping-up its breathless intensity considerably. Wheatley edits the hell out of all of these scenes, playing some out intentionally long and others as quick jump cuts scored to gothic baritones. It made me feel incredibly uneasy and edgy watching it, and despite wanting to check out, something compelling always drew me back in.
Fry, Torchia and Squires all deliver riveting, standout work taking us through Wheatley’s wild ride. I only know Fry from his comedic performances, so it was great to see him a whole other side of him here. Torchia elevates every scene she appears in, and Squires influences the narrative in a large way despite her limited screen time. However, they all pale in comparison to the towering shadow Reece Shearsmith imprints on the entire Film. He is positively electric, exploding with the force of a hand grenade no matter what the scene asks of him. He is vividly expressive, and is brilliant at changing his entire demeanour on the fly. Saying more would ruin some of the surprises, but I am positively riddled with anxiety just thinking about him.
In the Earth is a small yet grand Horror film that will both elate and frustrate genre fans. It could have been slightly less enigmatic, but Wheatley fans should not have expected anything less. The cast is solid and the Body Horror elements will leave you screaming. If we are going to see more pandemic-related films in the future, I would prefer them look like this.
Elevation Pictures release IN THE EARTH in select theatres on Friday, April 16, 2021. Additional release dates to come.
*Please ensure you exercise caution in observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing this in-theatre.*