Ben Wheatley’s In The Earth

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.

-Nate Hill