in the earth

Director Ben Wheatley is the sort of filmmaker that you can never put in one box. Each of his films has dipped into genres that have kept audiences on edge. From the likes of films like “Kill List,” “Free Fire,” and the most recent “Rebecca” remake, one film hasn’t been like the last. His latest “In The Earth” strikes a note of pure horror, but not in the way one may think. As mysterious disease plagues the world, a park scout and scientist travel deep in the forest to check on some of their equipment. Saying more than that would ruin the wild, unpredictable strangeness this story has.

As a filmmaker, Wheatley is someone I run quite hot and cold with over his filmography. I certainly can’t deny how effective “In The Earth” winds up being; it just left me cold once it was over. There isn’t a lot of background information or any information of any kind about these people. While certainly not being interested in a dump of expository dialogue, we learn nothing about our characters. This is a serious problem when some of their unfortunate circumstances come to fruition. Clocking in at 100 minutes, we’re thrown into a world where we don’t feel the stakes.

The cast is game for anything, which sells the horror elements, but I never felt scared. This is a rather frustrating detail when you have a cast as committed as this to the darker material. This is why I want to give credit to every actor on screen because they really go the extra mile. Particularly in the film’s latter portion, the carnage and general insanity are ramped to a level I didn’t expect. It’s in this regard that I wonder if a second viewing would sit better than the first. Bringing this point forward still doesn’t change the rather unfortunate feeling I had with “In The Earth.” It’s the sort of film that leans into the weirdness.

For some, that may be enough, but others like me will be left wanting a lot more. What’s undeniable is how Wheatley seamlessly crafts the tension from the moment the credits roll. It’s the sort of story that strikes a certain amount of unease in its audience to where we know the ball could drop at any minute. It’s just the right detail that lets us never feel bored, which is arguably the films saving grace. When the time the film was over, I just realized that it’s rather empty. Wanting to have themes familiar of a pandemic culture force a cerebralism that gets it in its own way.

“In The Earth” is the sort of film riddled with ambitions about what it wants to do. Being so ambitious holds the film back from being an overall memorable experience. Wheatley made the film that he wanted, and I cannot deny that. What left me rather frustrated was how it lacks the courage of its convictions. There’s an effective through-line of tension, but it just takes so long to reach a payoff. By the time we reach the cerebral conclusion, we’ve lost the excitement we had at the start. As a metaphor to the pandemic world, it sinks its teeth into what the worst-case scenario of the pandemic could’ve been. For filmmaking in this day and age, it’s an admirable feat. not quite finessed to perfection. If you’re in the mood for something more experimental, then you’ll get more out of this than I did.

Rating: 5/10

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