Warning note for potential viewers: In the Earth contains several strobe effects and should be avoided by those who have concerns regarding that.
Writer/director Ben Wheatley returns to his British folk horror roots of Kill List (2011) and A Field in England (2013) with his latest U.K. feature, In the Earth. It’s an absolute trip — complete with psychedelic sequences — that plays on pandemic fears, isolation, and otherworldly nature entities.
Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) arrives at a makeshift outpost in the forest during the third wave of a virus that has brought death and paranoia to the nation and beyond. He and park ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia) set out on a multiple-day hike to deliver materials to the research site where a missing colleague of Lowery’s, Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires), has been out of contact for some time. They are attacked, robbed, and left barefoot. As the forest becomes more claustrophobic with each step, the pair find themselves at the dwelling of hermit Zach (Reece Shearsmith), who espouses his belief in forest spirit Parnag Fegg. I’ll skip quite a bit of nastiness that ensues after that to avoid spoilers — suffice it to say that body horror comes into play — and move on to the pair’s eventual discovery of Dr. Wendle, who is herself obsessed with the forest spirit, and is using sound and light experiments in an effort to communicate with it. To give away much more plot would be doing future viewers a disservice.
Wheatley, working from his own screenplay, has crafted a challenging film rife with paranoia and madness, in which pseudoscience collides with folk horror. Plenty of fright-fare movies have made the forest an unsettling and even terrifying location, but In the Earth takes that concept to a whole different level. The film is designed to make viewers almost as uncomfortable as its protagonists with hair-raising sound design from Martin Pavey, a marvelously complementary score by Clint Mansell (whose previous work includes The Fountain , Black Swan , and The Black Mirror ), disarming strobe effects, and some gruesome practical effects work.
Wheatley has made films and television episodes in an intriguing range of genres, but his return to scare fare is a dazzling, dizzying one. It is bound to be divisive, too. Kill List delivered a gut punch and A Field in England played head games, and In the Earth builds on themes present in both of those films, resulting in an auteur vision that uses current worldwide fears as a springboard for a mesmerizing, mind-blowing cinematic experience.
NEON will release In the Earth in theaters on April 16th, 2021.
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