Ben Wheatley’s IN THE EARTH Fuses Science, Horror, and Ancient Evil

In The Earth is in theaters now.

With his newest film, director Ben Wheatley combines horror, science fiction, and mythology into an odd and compellingly watchable — if somewhat incomprehensible — journey into weirdness.

Researcher Martin Lowery (Joel Fry), accompanied by a park ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia), makes a foray deep into the wilderness to seek out his lost colleague and friend Olivia, a botanist who has gone radio silent.

Strange things are afoot in the woods, and it’s not long before the pair are wrapped up in a series of bizarre and dangerous encounters including an assault by unseen attacker, a grievous foot laceration, and a run-in with a mysterious forest-dwelling hermit (Reece Shearsmith).

Even when they do eventually find Olivia (Hayley Squires), it’s little relief — her research has turned up some bizarre and fantastic discoveries that seem more threatening than reassuring: the plants are communicating. The film’s incredible sound design, along with the electronic music score by Clint Mansell, act in direct service to the story’s plot, sonically illustrating this concept of communication.

The film bears some similarities to Wheatley’s earlier film A Field in England, which likewise features characters trekking through nature and experiencing surreal horrors, with some of the same stylistic hallmarks. I was also reminded of Annihilation, which centers on an expedition into a restricted area to investigate an unknown threat, and specifically deals with a mind-controlling influence.

One of the film’s more unique aspects is that it’s set during a global pandemic. It’s not specifically identified as Covid, but the parallels of isolation and social breakdown are readily evident to our world’s past year of struggle.

I’m being intentionally vague on any specific plot points to preserve the film’s weird surprises, but it’ s full of body horror, bizarre ritual, mythic lore, eldritch evil, and trippy visuals. And while it winds its way to what I consider a somewhat unsatisfying finale, I was always completely engaged by its commitment to an unsettling tone and fascinating manner of unfolding.

A/V Out.

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