Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth is one of best horror films of recent memory because it both leans into and moves away from our current Pandemic fears.
Technology we do not understand can appear to be magic. This old adage is never truer than it is in writer/director Ben Wheatley’s latest horror film.
Botanist Martin (Joel Fry) is in search for a cure for a virus that has devastated the earth. He arrives at a research center with the intention to head into the surrounding forest to finish the research that colleague Olivia Wendle started and was corresponded with Martin about. Coupled with a guide Alma (Ellora Torchia), the duo head into the woods.
Quickly things turn bad as someone in the middle of the night has taken their essentials and broken their equipment. At their most dire they meet Zach (Reece Shearsmith) who helps them. As they begin to inquire to Zach’s own “research” the two quickly find that there is more to not only Zach but the woods themselves. Both may be more dangerous than first appeared.
After the grand opulence of his Rebecca adaptation, Wheatley has returned to more sinister horror. He has lost none of his bite and proficiency in dread and the slow burn horror that he made his name in. Those that worry that Wheatley’s propensity for gore is has been lost should worry no longer. In the Earth features some great squirm-inducing pieces of gore that will delight many. Though these are the type of small-scale bits of real-life violence that Wheatley perfected early in his career. The simple act of suturing someone’s foot or an amputation scene are both delightfully witty and wickedly drawn out.
Few filmmakers can seem to find that malice of the unknown darkness of nature like the director. Often films of similar ilk come off prosaic without the bite that one wishes in horror. Does In the Earth ever bite. There is a slow burn quality that feels like an ever-tightening noose of dread as the film’s end game becomes clearer and clearer. The reason the film works so well is the central mystery is so intriguing.
One of the adroit aspects of the film is its script. Wheatley’s script is a marvel at juggling technology, myth, nature, and science in a way that feels organic and never forced. Part of the beauty of the film is just how it ties certain iconography we know to be one thing and apply with a hue of science and tech. It makes one wonder how Wheatley would approach a writer like Jeff VanderMeer’s work who has similar interests.
In the Earth is one of the first great films of 2021. A sci-fi horror film with elements of both witchcraft and the virus outbreak subgenres makes it all the more enticing and harder to resist.