When it comes to summer releases, it usually consists of huge blockbusters boasting the latest special effects and massive budgets. However, with so many films seeing a delayed release following the cinema’s closures across the global, we’re starting to see a lot of exciting, experimental films from directors who like to push boundaries. One such film is In the Earth which is Ben Wheatley’s latest offering. Taking inspiration from the isolation of lockdown, the film follows Martin (Joel Fry), a researcher who has to venture through mysterious woods to find his colleague who he hasn’t heard from in months. Guided by park ranger, Alma (Ellora Torchia), unexpected events unfold and turns everything upside down.
Directed by Wheatley and based on a script cowritten by Wheatley and Amy Jump, In the Earth has everything you would expect from his films. There are elements from previous films such as Kill List that find their way into this film but it still maintains a uniqueness and clear identity in its exploration of nature’s relationship with art and science. Astonishingly, In the Earth was written and directed over 15 days making the final result an even more spectacular achievement. All four characters are given plenty of time for natural characterisation that feels authentic thanks to the brilliant script which allows them to breathe and gives the actors lots of freedom.
In the leading performances, we have Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia as Martin and Alma, respectively and they make a great pairing. Fry manages to lead this film with ease and shows another side of his acting range which is a stark contrast to his supporting performance in this year’s Cruella. Martin is a reserved character but Fry adds a complexity to the character and his physical performance, especially when Martin injures his foot, is fantastic. We feel the pain and the frustrations that he goes through. The same can equally be said for Torchia, who is no stranger to horror having previously performed in Midsommar. One of the main highlights of the film, to say that Torchia’s performance as Alma is spectacular is an understatement. As a park ranger, she doesn’t fully understand the research and isn’t afraid to question motivations for further understanding. One particularly terrifying scene is when she attempts to venture through some toxic mist created by mushroom spores which penetrates her hazmat suit and causes severe hallucinations.
Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires round out the cast as Zach and Dr. Olivia Wendle who both live in the forest to connect with it with different motivations. Zach believes that the forest wants offerings in the form of art which he does by taking ritualistic photographs whereas Olivia is using her scientific equipment to communicate with the forest using light and sound. Representing two different sides of a spectrum with a common goal, Zach and Olivia will stop at nothing from getting what they want. What makes the film such an effective horror is the shifting dynamics between all four characters. As Martin and Alma struggle to find their way, allegiances begin to change and their hallucinations begin to break them away from reality which makes the forest seem like it is in an entirely different world. Although there are some very gory moments, it doesn’t feel like a horror in the traditional sense but the best thing about Wheatley’s films is to expect the unexpected.
Another frequent collaborator who Wheatley recruited for this film is composer Clint Mansell who knocks it out the park with his simply yet deeply effective score. Like the film, the score jumps in tone and music style to reflect the unpredictability while also clearly being influenced by nature and incorporating the sounds of the forest into the music. The music in the film almost becomes the voice of the forest with the chaotic sounds of disruption juxtaposing with gentler pieces. The forest can equally be viewed as a character in the film and this is enhanced through the brilliant score.
Overall, In the Earth is an incredibly sensory film that feels tight and fantastically paced. By focusing on a small number of characters, Wheatley allows us to become invested and gives plenty of characterisation without making it seem unnatural. What Wheatley does so well is making us feel comfortable in thinking the film is going to go in a certain direction before completely blindsiding us into an entirely different scenario. His ability to merge genres and explore an array of fascinating subjects helps to create films that are completely unique and interpretative which makes the viewing experience individual to the audience.
What did you think of In the Earth? Let me know in the comments below!
In the Earth is available to watch to cinemas!