THE STORY – As a deadly virus ravages the world, Dr. Martin Lowery embarks on a mission to reach test site ATU327A, a research hub deep in the Arboreal Forest. The arduous journey, guided by park scout Alma, is set back by a nighttime attack that leaves the two bruised and shoeless. When they run into Zach, a man living off the grid, they gratefully accept his help. Zach’s intentions aren’t exactly what they seem, however, and a path out of the forest and into safety quickly fades as the line between myth and science blurs.
THE CAST – Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires & Reece Shearsmith
THE TEAM – Ben Wheatley (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 107 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
After the disappointment that was Netflix’s “Rebecca,” director Ben Wheatley returns to the style of filmmaking that made him a name in the first place with the thrilling “In The Earth.” Mixing parts of “Annihilation,” “Midsommar” and “The Wicker Man” together, it is a terrifying post-apocalyptic science fiction thriller for these COVID-19 infested times we are living through (and a global warming disaster that is brimming beneath the surface) that is both visually astounding and captivating. More like this Ben! Please!
At an undisclosed time in the future (or maybe, it’s the present day?), a deadly virus has completely engulfed the world. Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) is a scientist looking to reach a research site deep in a dangerous, thought to be abandoned forest, aided by a park scout named Alma (Ellora Torchia). One night, the two are unexpectedly attacked while they’re sleeping by an unknown assailant named Zac, a man living in the forest who practices Idolatry, believing he has the ability to communicate with nature. As Martin and Alma’s journey takes them deeper into the forest, the line between what is real and what is imaginary gets increasingly blurred, creating a nightmarish sensory experience that is a call to action to preserve and respect our earth.
Gone are the gimmicks and large budgets Wheatley has toyed with in his last few feature films. In this stylized “back-to-basics” approach, Wheatley delivers a slick-looking thriller that is about as stripped down as it gets but with visuals that are reminiscent of today’s quarantined world. Characters wearing facemasks, talking about infection, there’s even a line of dialogue where Fry’s Martin says, “Being outside for the first time in months. It’s hard to take it all in, actually.” And boy, does it look ever so lovely outside! Shot by Nick Gillespie, the cinematography is vibrant, with striking compositions that are both memorable and reminded me of some of the colorful forest shots in Alex Garland’s “Annihilation.” Clint Mansell’s synth-led score perfectly sets the mood and creates an otherworldly feel that is keeping in with the film’s themes of an ever-changing Earth and what that does to people. The soundscape of the film is also vital and brilliant as it takes a pivotal role later on in the film’s plot when the scientists are revealed to be using soundwaves to communicate with plants (Don’t worry, this is better than “The Happening”).
Joel Fry has been popping up over the last few years as one of those “Oh hey! It’s that guy!” ever since his starring role on HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” (many will recognize him from Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday“). Now, he has a lead role, which allows the British actor a chance to really showcase his talents. His Dr. Martin Lowery endures tremendous physical pain (there’s an amputation scene that is just as tense as it is gory) and Fry makes for a likable protagonist to take us along this strange journey from the mind of Wheatley. In this world, no one can be trusted and while Lowery is accompanied by Alma, I wish that more material had been given to Ellora Torchia to do.
“In The Earth” may start grounded and relatable as a means to attract viewers into its seductive science fiction plot. However, there is some talk of folklore early on in the film, namely a spirit of the woods named Parnag Fegg and at that point, you just know that Wheatley is going to find a way before the film ends to work that mythical aspect into the plot and forever sear it in our minds. Once we get to the third act and actress Hayley Squires shows up to serve as nothing more than an exposition dump, we are plunged head-first into the film’s more psychedelic and unnerving moments. Quick edits, screeching sounds, kaleidoscopic imagery, rituals, pulsating strobe-light effects and more astounding gory makeup work all serve as fuel for our nightmares of an earth that is and an earth that is to come if we don’t do anything about it soon.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – An alluring and vibrant sensory experience that mixes the beautiful and nightmarish, this is an accomplished return to form for Ben Wheatley. Clint Mansell’s seductive synth-led score and the film’s entire soundscape is haunting.
THE BAD – More focused on plot and aesthetics, as character-work gets tossed aside.