IN THE EARTH Poster | ©2021 Neon

IN THE EARTH Poster | ©2021 Neon

Rating: R
Stars: Joel Fry, Reece Sheersmith, Hayley Squires, Ellora Torchia, Mark Monero, John Hollingworth
Writer: Ben Wheatley
Director: Ben Wheatley
Distributor: Neon
Release Date: April 16, 2021

IN THE EARTH is set in a world where there’s a pandemic going on. Lest anyone be put off by this story element, its point seems mainly to explain why there aren’t more people around. After the first few scenes, it becomes an afterthought. However, anyone who has problems with strobe lights and flashing images should be warned in advance.

Dr. Martin Lowry (Joel Fry) walks up a woodland path to a fenced-off lodge with warning signs all around. The building, a tourist hub in healthier days, now houses a variety of scientists working on diverse projects.

IN THE EARTH Poster | ©2021 Neon

IN THE EARTH Poster | ©2021 Neon

Martin is studying how to make crops more productive. When park ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia) observes that this is an odd subject to study in a forest, Martin explains that these woods have uncommonly fertile ground.

In the lodge, there’s artwork on the wall of Parnag Fenn, as local legend calls the spirit of the woods. Neither the scientists nor the park ranger view this as cause for concern.

Since Martin is very much a city fellow, Alma is assigned to accompany him into the forest. The spot Martin seeks is a two-day hike from the lodge. He and Alma run into a spot of trouble – someone steals their shoes while they’re sleeping.

Then they meet the hermit Zach (Reece Sheersmith), who has made a home for himself in the forest. Zach appears to be friendly and helpful.

This part of IN THE EARTH goes more or less where we’d expect. Then the film takes a sharp turn at roughly the halfway point, and we get a heavy dose of science-fiction possibility to go with the potential of the supernatural, or even induced madness.

Director/writer Ben Wheatley has a strong sense of pacing, so that we have a sense of forward momentum even when people are literally sitting still. He also builds dread and pays off gore scares with expertise.

IN THE EARTH Poster | ©2021 Neon

IN THE EARTH Poster | ©2021 Neon

Cinematographer Nick Gillespie brings the colors of the natural world to vivid life, and Martin Pavey is responsible for the distinctive, crucial sound design.

Wheatley has a good feel for naturalistic dialogue and getting strong, credible work from his cast. Even when the characters start saying some very peculiar things, they still come off like normal folks talking.

Where IN THE EARTH falters a bit is when it becomes repeatedly trippy. We understand why this is happening, and as these things go, the imagery works. It’s just that a) there’s a lot of it, and b) because there’s so much of it, it seems like it ought to add up to more than it does.

Wheatley has some genuinely intriguing concepts, which in fact could serve as the basis for a whole other different type of movie. As far as IN THE EARTH goes, we get a good ride, but there’s so much mystery that a few more definitive answers would be welcome by the finale.

IN THE EARTH Poster | ©2021 Neon

IN THE EARTH Poster | ©2021 Neon

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