Combustible Celluloid
With: Joel Fry, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires, Ellora Torchia, John Hollingworth, Mark Monero
Written by: Ben Wheatley
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
MPAA Rating: R for strong violent content, grisly images, and language
Running Time: 107
Date: 04/16/2021

In the Earth (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Doesn't Give a Fegg

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

More unsettling weirdness from director Ben Wheatley (High Rise, Free Fire), the sci-fi/horror In the Earth is both enigmatic and brutally relevant, filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and furiously digging into its consequences.

The planet is in the grips of a deadly pandemic. It's the near-future, and scientist Martin (Joel Fry) leaves a long, isolated lockdown to venture out into the woods to find his former lover, Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires), who is said to have disappeared. His guide is Alma (Ellora Torchia), who is far more rugged and outdoorsy than Martin. Before they leave, Martin learns about a spirit of the woods called Parnag Fegg.

On their first morning after camping out, they awaken to find their boots stolen, and it's not long before Martin cuts open the bottom of his foot. Out of nowhere comes Zach (Reece Shearsmith), who claims to be illegally living in the woods, and offers his help. Zach seems nice enough, but things are about to get weird.

In the Earth can be as frustrating as it is fascinating. It's a little short on conveying certain information, and it's not exactly a movie about characters you can love. But it cuts deeply into nightmarish territory that's both alien and sadly familiar, and it broaches topical themes without being preachy or intellectual. Wheatley — perhaps best known for his cult hit Kill List (2011) — shot the movie in just 15 days, mostly outdoors, or with characters wearing masks onscreen, in a way that feels innovative, without drawing attention to itself.

This likewise extends to the characters. One lies about having exercised while in lockdown, and is quite weak when asked to physically exert himself, and another apologies for her awkwardness, not having spoken to another human in months. The monster mythology created for the story doesn't go very far, and it could actually be something of a stand-in for the Coronavirus itself.

Themes of nature-vs.-technology are also here, and still relevant. In the end, though, the shocks and gore tend to outweigh whatever else Wheatley was trying, but In the Earth is still impressive enough to make it worth a look for brave viewers.

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