Sundance 2021 – In the Earth

Now this is how I like my Ben Wheatley. Back in 2013 I had my mind absolutely obliterated when I watched his masterpiece Kill List. I had no clue what was going on in the last 30 minutes of that movie but buddy it was some of the most terrifying shit I’d ever seen. I didn’t need to understand it. I will never forget that film. While I’ve liked a lot of the more commercial films he’s done since Kill List and A Field in England, I’ve been waiting for Wheatley to go back to his bonkers, horrific roots. I had my worries we’d never see this Wheatley again after his awful Rebecca remake (keep getting those checks though). But In the Earth straight up rips, and brings us right back to the type of uncompromising horror that made us fall in love with Wheatley in the first place.

In the Earth takes place during a worldwide pandemic, as scientist Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) and his ranger guide Alma (Ellora Torchia) venture deep into the woods to locate another scientist that hasn’t reported back in months. After they are attacked at night, they meet a man camping in the woods named Zach (Reece Shearsmith) who offers to help them, but is hiding his true intentions. Nightmares await.

Wheatley wrote and filmed this during the pandemic this year, and manages to acknowledge pandemic realities akin to ours without it feeling gimmicky. The disease isn’t Covid, but he’s also not ignoring the inspiration if that makes sense. It is somewhat hurriedly shot and edited, and is understandable and even forgivable because the thing is so damn distinct. 

The cast is a winning one. The screen presence of Joel Fry is formidable. There’s an awkward, scholarly charm to him. He’s out of his element in a relatable way that makes you grab onto him. Reece Shearsmith is absolutely terrifying. There’s a casual, perhaps polite evil to how he plays Zach. Anything is possible when he’s on screen in this film. Clint Mansell delivers a delightful, synthy throwback score. 

This film has pretty much everything that has come to define the Wheatley experience – there are haunting sequences featuring strobe lights, threats of a pagan evil that will outlast us all, and jarring editing featuring many shocking tricks that makes you feel like you’ve taken the worst acid/mushrooms possible to relive your worst memory for eternity. I can’t even describe the shit he does with the editing to make you sick and terrified. He also delivers on the gore, his trust in practical effects shines. A scene featuring a foot getting stitched up is fucking gnarly, and will remain one of the most memorable things I’ll see this year. 

I don’t have a clue what the fuck is going on for the entire third act of this film, and I don’t care one bit. Why should I expect to have my hand held by the dude who made A Field in England? It’s an experiential horror that only Wheatley could deliver. He always seems to be at his most fulfilled dealing with pagan evils and the darkness of humanity. The woods are clean from the disease of humanity, and you have no power there. If you don’t like him, I get it. But his uncompromising, obsessive vision will always hold me. This is going to be among my favorites of the year, and will certainly be one of the most unforgettable things I’ll watch in 2021. I was pleased Neon financed this so it’s got a great distributor already. I’m grateful we still have room for Wheatley at his most unhinged. In the Eart fucking rips.

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