We’re trying to get back to the movies, but even though we’re very avid moviegoers, it’s not like life actually stopped during the lockdown. Instead, we found more and more non-movie things to do, and now have to figure out how we’re going to fit movies in to our newly packed schedules. But as far as that goes, In The Earth was a good movie to start with. Director Ben Wheatley (High Rise/”Dr. Who”) gives us a tale of a couple of government officials going out to connect with some other government officials, to do official things in the forest, when things go wrong.
I apologize for the vagueness. The movie starts with a whole bunch of Covid protocols which actually have nothing to do with the story, but which are actually pretty effective from the standpoint of creating an atmosphere of alienation and paranoia. (Just like in real life!) Science-guy Martin (Joel Fry, Yesterday/”Game of Thrones”) is going out into the field to assist Dr. Olivia Wendle, and Ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia, Midsommar) is the guide who walks him there.
Martin’s kind of twitchy. He’s in crap shape (which I assume is just good acting on Fry’s part, but maybe he’s a method actor and just sat around doing nothing for the past year) and he’s lying about things. Little things, like keeping fit, for example, or having as his motivation the desire to re-hook-up with Dr. Wendle whom he knew in some less-than-official capacity previously. It takes about a half hour for things to go south (metpahorically), and the movie turns into a survival picture.
But from a survival picture, it goes into a supernatural horror. It feels a bit like Color Out Of Space—which, along with Mandy, seems to have had an outsized influence (relative to box office) on recent horror. But besides those, it has a bit of a The Witch thing going, and borrows from certain concepts about what is “alive” in the world that remind me of certain Japanese movies. At times, it recalls the infamous The Happening but it leaves enough wiggle-room in its increasingly psychedelic actions to allow for any number of explanations as to what actually is going on.
Martin has a hell of a time, though. If something bad’s going to happen, it’s probably going to happen to him.
Fine performances. Besides the aforementioned actors, Dr. Wendle is played by the Very English Looking Hayley Squires, while “League of Gentlemen” veteran Reece Shearsmith plays Zach, a squatter hiding out in the forest. There’s a lot of acting going on here, which is good, because the story elements are thin. (That’s not an insult: The story elements in Psycho are super-thin.)
Good use of music. The sound design generally was quite strong, though I warn any sensitive people that this movie is chock full of strobes and potentially painful noises. This is part of the plot. The Boy and I were not bowled over by these effects but we both thought there was a good balance of using them but not over-using them. Had The Flower come, I suspect she would’ve hated it.
Some exceptional photography on the one hand, while on the other (and I assume this was deliberate) things looked not just like they were taken on a phone, but like I had taken them on my phone.
Back on Valentine’s Day, Joe Bob Briggs showed The Love Witch and had on the director Anna Biller, who seems to make about one movie every ten years, shooting on genuine film. And one could say a lot of things about The Love Witch but the aesthetics of it really threw into contrast how lifeless modern cinematography is. I’ve seen very little new since then that didn’t make me think, “If only they’d shot on film.”
But apart from that prejudice, it’s competently done with some notable highlights.
Overall, we liked it. There are some jump scares and some rather cringe-inducing gore. Atmosphere-wise, movies about the horrors of nature have an advantage over other horrors because they’re absolutely true, but that wasn’t its real strength. It seemed, at times, like the director was dabbling in body horror, and that might have made for more compelling horror. But it was certainly watchable and it wasn’t boring.