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VOD Review: In the Earth

May 14, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The latest from British filmmaker Ben Wheatley, In the Earth is a low-budget horror film that was shot in the woods over fifteen days last August during lockdown, using the real life COVID-19 pandemic as inspiration for its virus-themed story. This unique production history is also the most interesting thing about it.

Wheatley, who wrote the script while stuck in quarantine, has crafted a film that takes full advantage of the current moment, with the global situation infusing both its narrative and general ambience. Instead of ignoring the pandemic and the limitations that it placed on filmmakers and actors, Wheatley embraces the situation as a way to justify his film’s secluded setting and limited cast of characters.

While In the Earth isn’t entirely successful beyond the grounds of being a clever COVID-era experiment, and ultimately feels like it offers more style than substance, the fact that it was shot during the pandemic makes it at least somewhat interesting. At the start of the film, which itself is set somewhere after the “third wave” of a deadly virus, we see real health guidelines posted on a park information board and characters wearing PPE, things that feel like eery holdovers from our world.

The main character is Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry), a scientist who has been assigned to a remote outpost in the woods outside Bristol, England to aid his former colleague Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires) in her research into growing more efficient crops. Her base camp is a two-day hike away, and Martin is being guided by a young park ranger named Alma (Ellora Torchia). But as they venture deeper into the woods, they encounter a madman named Zach (Reece Shearsmith), and, well, bad things start to happen.

Wheatley mixes the more gimmicky lost-in-the-woods thrills of a film like The Blair Witch Project with something more psychedelic and cerebral, and it’s a balance between low-brow and high-brow that isn’t quite pulled off. While the film has some intriguing ideas, they aren’t articulated as well as they could have been, and the internal logic gets increasingly convoluted and hard to follow as it goes along. The script works in some made up mythology involving a spirit referred to as Parnag Fegg that connects the forest they are in, but it feels underdeveloped, especially compared to other folk horror films.

Wheatley does manage to stage a few unnerving and suspenseful moments throughout, and the film features some appropriately nasty and gnarly practical effects. The sound design is also impressive, and I enjoyed the pulsating score by Clint Mansell. But In the Earth ultimately gets too tangled up in its own mumbo jumbo in the latter half, and the ending feels somewhat underwhelming. Alas, the fact that it was shot in secret during a real pandemic ends up being one of the most interesting things about it.

In the Earth is now available to watch on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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