In the Earth
Film: In the Earth
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Joel Fry, Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires
This was a movie that I’ll be honest, jumped on to my radar as something to see for this year thanks to Duncan from The Podcast Under the Stairs. Him and Mr. Watson did a season of Opera Omnia that covered the filmography of writer/director Ben Wheatley. He’s a director that I believe I’ve only seen one of his films at this time, but that one I really liked. For this, I came in blind just knowing it was getting some buzz, that it was horror and getting to see it in the theater. Since seeing this movie, I’ve now watched a good portion of his movies and have now given this a second watch. The synopsis is as the world searches for a cure to a disastrous virus, a scientist and park scout venture deep in the forest for a routine equipment run.
We start this movie off with someone with a sledgehammer breaking a rock. They are smashing it into tiny pieces and the reason for this, they are creating a booby-trap. One of these placed in the ground and hidden with grass over it. We then shift over to Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) approaching a cabin. As the synopsis states, there is a pandemic due to a virus, so they have precautions here. He must be sanitized before he can enter. There are more tests and checking out his paperwork that is done by James (John Hollingworth) and Frank (Mark Monero).
Once everything has checked out, Martin then meets with Alma (Ellora Torchia). She is the park ranger that is going to take him out to the campsite where the experiment is being done. They meet in a room where on the wall is an old hand drawn picture. It is of an entity of the woods that has become folklore according to Alma. I believe they call it Parnag Fegg. The people from the nearby village have reverence for it as it almost seems like a god of sorts. The image makes Martin uncomfortable.
The next day, the two of them set out. It is a 2-day hike to make the campsite. Things seem to be going well until they’re attacked in the middle of the night. They wake up to find the equipment Martin was bringing was taken. Their shoes are gone and most of their supplies. They are too far into the woods and decide to continue. They are slowed when Martin steps on a stone that gashes his foot. Their fortunes seem to be looking up when they encounter Zach (Reece Shearsmith), who is living off the land. He takes them in, gives Martin medical care for his foot and even has some food. Living in mostly isolation has made him a bit crazy.
They aren’t too far from the camp they’re going for and it becomes a nightmare as they try to survive this ordeal. Even reaching the camp of Dr. Wendle (Hayley Squires) might not necessarily be the reprieve that they are looking for.
That is where I want to leave my recap for this movie. Where I want to start is giving credit to Wheatley. He wrote and directed this movie all during this COVID pandemic. I think it is quite strategic in what he did here with the writing. He is establishing that it is taking place during a pandemic. By having this take place out in the woods, he isn’t under the constraints there as you would setting it in a city. There is a limited cast, which helps. It also feels that the research Dr. Wendle is doing out there might help with finding a cure. They haven’t heard from her in a few weeks, which at first isn’t a major deal. Once our characters encounter Zach, the worry grows as time progresses.
Taking the setting even farther, I love the idea of the isolation that comes from putting us deep in the woods. Once they are out in the wilderness, it would take too long to get back so most of the time, they’re closer to their destination. It makes sense some of the medical procedures that are done instead of returning. There is the feeling that they might never be found on top of that. All these things build tension. Making things worse is that you have Zach, who from the beginning we see that there’s something off about him. In the beginning I thought he might just be a hermit. These people tend to be a bit off due to lack of human interaction. There is more to him than that though. Dr. Wendle has a similar feel. For her though, she’s been out there so long and most of the time alone, she seems to have descended into madness. I think how far this is set into the woods helps us establish and explain what is wrong with these two characters.
There is also the idea of this entity in the woods. Parnag Fegg comes back up and we also have this odd stone. It isn’t talked about anywhere aside from a book on rituals. The moment I heard that, I really started to look for things in the background of shots. I must give credit to the cinematography here. There are times where I think there could be something there, but it is only for a frame before it disappears. The use of strobing lights aids in this as well. This helps with the atmosphere for the movie for me. We get more about this potential entity from Wendle as well. I like what the reveal is here and there is an interesting idea brought forth that could explain this virus as well. It really makes you wonder if some of things happening later are really happening or we have madness induced by nature and/or isolation.
I believe that is enough for the story without going into spoilers. Where I want to shift next then would be the acting. I was excited to see Fry as I’ve seen him in other things. I think he does a good job as Martin here. I feel bad for him though as a lot of bad things seem to happen. Shearsmith looks great as Zach and I love the character he plays here. Squires is solid as Wendle. The big thing here is that we don’t get to meet her until late, but once we do, she does a great job in building the atmosphere as well as establishing more of the lore. The more we hear her, the more we question if she is correct in her hypothesis or has she lost her mind. Torchia is good as well as Alma and the rest of the cast rounds this out for what was needed.
I’ve already said a bit about the cinematography, but I’ll double down that this movie is shot beautifully. It does a great job at giving us nature shots that still give a creepy vibe. On top of that, the editing with certain shots helps. We also get some strobe lights later in the movie that adds as well. There’s a bit of montage used during certain scenes that was interesting. It gives us a glimpse of what characters are experiencing which I liked. Aside from that I think the effects we get in the movie are great. They are done practical and are quite brutal. I was cringing quite a few times.
Then the last thing that I wanted to go over would be the soundtrack. It is used masterfully here. The vibe that the music gives to some scenes we are seeing helps to make them feel creepy, even when nothing is happening. We also get some great use of sound off screen like people yelling. The music that is used during the climax also adds on top of this as well.
In conclusion, I really dug the concept and the story of this movie. It is taking something that most people in the world are sick of dealing with in a pandemic but giving us a different look at it. I think the setting of the woods is great for the isolation that comes with it. The lore that is established and built on as the movie goes is great as well. We are getting almost a blend of nature fighting back and mixing it with folk horror. I would say that the acting is good across the board. The effects, cinematography and the soundtrack all work as well to build the atmosphere that this movie needs. After my first viewing, I’m sitting on it as a good movie. Having now rewatched this, I’m giving it a slight bump now that I understand it more.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10