Recently I’ve been recommending some quite obscure films, but this week I wanted to draw your attention to a more recent offering. It’s from director BEN WHEATLEY, who has already built up an extraordinarily wide-ranging filmography in little over a decade. From the unexpected plot/genre shifts of KILL LIST, to the black humour of SIGHTSEERS, from his adaptations of novels by DAPHNE DU MAURIER and J G BALLARD and episodes of DR WHO to the slapstick violence of FREE FIRE, there’s always something to enjoy in his work. His most recent movie, IN THE EARTH, which was written and filmed over a very short period of time at the height of the Covid pandemic, is no exception. It recently appeared on NETFLIX here in the UK, and I think it’s absolutely worth an hour and forty-seven minutes of your time.
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.Read more: In the Earth
There’s a very good chance you won’t enjoy IN THE EARTH. It might frustrate you. By the time you get to the impenetrable, psychedelic/hallucinogenic ending, you’ll likely be struggling to understand what you’re seeing, but isn’t that how it sometimes just is? Isn’t that the point? The world doesn’t always make sense. We might pretend we’re experts, but really we’re not. I know how to use my computer, but I don’t know the details of what goes on inside to turn my thoughts into this post. I know how to drive my car, but I don’t know how the engine works. Sure, we may have some understanding of the processes involved, but there’s always going to be a limit to our individual knowledge.
And that, I think, is the point we reach at the exact same time as the characters in Wheatley’s film.
Don’t let the fact there’s no clear-cut resolution to the story put you off, because in getting there, the film is a real rollercoaster. It looks absolutely beautiful, and the sumptuousness of the surroundings have an almost fairy tale-like quality. The main performances (from JOEL FRY, REECE SHEARSMITH, HAYLEY SQUIRES, and ELLORA TORCHIA) are consistently strong. What really elevates IN THE EARTH for me, though, is the atmosphere, helped in no short measure by a soundtrack from CLINT MANSELL. Filmed during the pandemic, and set during a similar viral event that’s clearly spiralled completely out of control, it taps directly into the bewilderment and unease that I think we all felt at that time. In addition, there’s a collision between science exploration and folk horror that’s reminiscent of NIGEL KNEALE’S QUATERMASS.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe this film just appeals to my specific niche. Regardless, I thought it was a fascinating watch and I urge you to give it a try. Weird, trippy, bloody, violent.. it’s another string to Wheatley’s bow. Next up for him – another complete change of direction with this summer’s insane-looking creature-feature, MEG 2: THE TRENCH. He’s a really fascinating filmmaker.