In The Earth is only the second film from Ben Wheatley I’ve seen, the first being his spunky noir shootout flick Free Fire which seems to be the odd duck out and a far cry from the dark, morose, esoteric folk horror fans are used to from him. This was a very interesting film and while the pieces don’t necessarily all fit together in a way that struck the ultimate timbre with me, it’s certainly a visually galvanizing, stylistically impressive work. As a research scientist (Joel Fry) and a park ranger (Ellora Torchia) trek deep into a wild forest in rural England on some sort of mission they encounter two very different individuals who are both trying to communicate and study some sort of… I dunno, entity or force that hides within the very structure of the natural world. There’s borderline zealot Zach (Reece Shearsmith) who lives as a homeless person would and approaches this being from a folk point of view, offering it iconography in a religious fashion like the pagans who lived in the region eons ago would have. His ex wife Olivia (Hayley Squires) lives in another region of the woods where nary the two stray into each other’s path (like most exes) and her efforts are a lot more scientific but no less bizarre, using complex machinery to reach out to this thing with light, sound and rhythm. The two leads find themselves stuck squarely between two duelling fanatics who are in way over their heads with a force of life neither can comprehend and are both slowly being driven mad by. And that’s as far as the plot goes in the realm of what is coherent and comprehensible anyways. The closest thing you could describe this entity as is a stone monolith punctuated by an opening through which you can view the stars, and nature on its terms but never is it presented as a physical or visible ethereal being beyond hints, abstract hallucinations and sounds out there in the dark. If that’s your thing than cool, I enjoyed the odd, surreal, impenetrable nature of it and recognized the welcome nods to many influences including Alex Garland’s Annihilation, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening and even John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness in a few brief strokes. Just don’t expect to walk out of this thing with answers; it’s a moody horror SciFi that quickly transforms itself into a wild arthouse romp from which there is no rhyme or reason to be distilled from but what one’s own intuition says.
How many shady, degenerate 70’s era Boston lowlifes does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Doesn’t matter, they’re too busy shooting at each other, the lightbulbs and everything that moves in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, the best film of the year so far. After an arms deal gone royally wrong, we get to spend a joyous, breezy hour and a half watching these halfwit scumbags blast each other to kingdom come in a not so abandoned warehouse, unfolding in real time and at a pace that has our pulses racing faster than the magazine clips can defecate shell casings. Wheatley’s output hasn’t been my cup of tea so far, but he’s won me over with this lighthearted, ballistic mini-masterpiece. It’s what I call a ‘low concept high concept’ flick, which I’m sure someone has said before, but suck it. A bunch of childish idiots in a roomful of heavy artillery, the bullets are bound to soon be flying as fast as the dry insults. The deal is simple: meet, sell a bunch of rifles to help the IRA cause, and be on their way. That’s not to be the case though, for as soon as one of them recognizes another party’s member from a violent scuffle prior, tensions mount until that first shot rings out. From there on in it’s a ‘childish game of paintball’ (to quote a friend) that escalates into a deafening fire fight filled with acidic humour and John Denver music, a hilariously counterintuitive soundtrack choice. Armie Hammer is priceless as Ord, cool as a cucumber and constantly lighting up joints mid-gunplay. Sharlto Cooley chews scenery as Vern, the preening peacock of the group, Brie Larson kicks ass and takes names, Cillian Murphy underplays the IRA consort while Michael Smiley, the butt of the geriatric jokes, gets in everyone’s face even before things go south. Patrick Bergin, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Enzo Cilenti and Jack Reynor also get their licks, but the performance of the film goes to Sam Riley, a criminally overlooked talent who’s been laying somewhat low recently. His character Stevo is indirectly the reason for all this mayhem, and he’s a walking disaster, the sleaziest little reprobate you can imagine. Riley plays him balls out and doesn’t hold back, I really wish we saw more of him in films these days. All of these bozos positively ventilate each other with bullets, no one not sustaining at least two or three gunshot wounds somewhere on their body, and once the Reservoir Dogs esque conclusion rolls around, we know that few will be left standing. Clocking in at a rapid fire ninety minutes, this is surefire entertainment for not only action fans, but anyone who loves movies, it’s a perfect example of the reason I go to the theatre. Cheerfully violent, casually profane and hysterically unapologetic. Just the way I like em’.