The 400-Word Review: In the Earth
By Sean Collier
April 15, 2021
You should encounter “In the Earth” with as little preparation as possible; it’s a movie that does not go where you expect, will not go anywhere you’ve been before and refuses to operate in ways that make neat sense. It can’t really be spoiled, but attempt to watch it devoid of expectation. Trust me: The experience will be worthwhile. I wanted it to go on for hours. Days. Getting weirder and weirder the whole time.
Like many entries in the literary genre inarticulately dubbed “the new weird” — think “Annihilation” — “In the Earth” stars from a common premise: Two people go into the woods, where things go badly. Those people, in this case, are Martin (Joel Fry) and Alma (Ellora Torchia), a young scientist and a park ranger; they’re headed for a remote camp managed by one of Martin’s colleagues, Olivia (Hayley Squires).
After a few days’ hike, the pair is attacked in the night, waking up to find their injuries are mild but, curiously, their shoes have been stolen, making the long walk home nearly impossible. They’re quickly offered assistance by Zach (Reece Shearsmith), a wary hermit living off the grid.
From there, as you’d imagine, things go south. And in every other conceivable direction.
“Everything just seems to keep us here,” says Alma; her situation is extreme, but we can all relate. “In the Earth” is a COVID-era movie — literally, in fact, as it was filmed in late 2020, with the virus and quarantine procedures presented as part of the film’s reality. (The virus is not named, and it appears slightly worse in this universe; still, the masks are a dead giveaway.)
More than just the fact of COVID, though, “In the Earth” is a film that considers who we are in the wake of the pandemic. Writer/director Ben Wheatley explores the pillars of comfort we default to in times of crisis and isolation: Zach desperately attempts to use faith and devotion as a weapon against uncertainty, while Olivia tenaciously digs deeper into the hope that science has an answer.
It’s thoughtful and alarmingly relevant. At the heart of it, though, “In the Earth” is simply terrifying — captivating and bizarre, and never not scary. At the end of certain stretches, I gasped for air, realizing I had been holding my breath. I watch a lot of horror movies. Very few of them manage that.
My Rating: 9/10
“In the Earth” is playing in theaters. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, consider visiting an outdoor cinema.