Directed by Ben Wheatley [Other horror films: Kill List (2011), The ABCs of Death (2012, segment ‘U Is for Unearthed’), A Field in England (2013)]
There are times when a movie is less a movie and more of an experience, and I think that In the Earth might qualify for that.
Not too dissimilar from films like Midsommar and Apostle, In the Earth is a folk horror which largely defies description. It starts off innocently enough, but by the thirty minute mark, you can sort of tell you’re in for a ride.
Now, personally, I didn’t think the ride was that enjoyable. For one, the movie is an hour and 47 minutes, and the last forty or so had semi-constant strobe lighting and discordant sounds, making for a singularly unpleasant viewing experience. The film can also be quite trippy during the latter half – there’s a charm to it, and it fits with the story, but it also lacks what I’d consider a good conclusion.
It’s sort of hard, really, to express my feelings. I love the idea of the film – individuals sort of stuck in a forested area by some sort of Mother Gaia-type organism/standing stone – and I can’t even fault the execution, as the movie looks beautiful as far as the cinematography goes. Portions may not be enjoyable to watch, but I suspect that’s rather the point.
At this juncture, it’s worth mentioning that In the Earth is directed by Ben Wheatley, and if that name sounds familiar, he’s also the one who directed Kill List, from 2011. Kill List is a movie that has a very odd vibe to it, and while I found In the Earth even odder, it’s not hard to imagine that the same mind was behind both projects.
Joel Fry (who I know from a brief role in Game of Thrones) and Ellora Torchia (who was actually in Midsommar) were solid as the leads, despite their many stilted conversations. It was harder to get into Hayley Squires’ and Reece Shearsmith’s performances, as their characters were rather out there, but it’s partially the point. Squires felt a little over-the-top at points, and the same could be said for Shearsmith (who was not only The Cottage, but also P.R.O.B.E.: The Devil of Winterborne and P.R.O.B.E.: Ghosts of Winterborne), but given their situations, I rather think that can be excused.
Like both Apostle and Midsommar, there are also a few rather violent scenes in the film, especially if you enjoy feet. One individual gets a gnarly gash on their foot, and it’s rather inexpertly sewn up later on. Also, some toes get cut off with an ax, a wound that later has to be cauterized (the cauterization isn’t too bad, but the scene in which the toes are cut off is, as the kids say, tense as fuck).
Violence, though, takes a backseat to whatever the hell the rest of the movie was. Really, it was all types of odd. I loved portions of it – the appearance of the Malleus Maleficarum (or Hammer of Witches), the idea that the local folklore of Parnag Fegg being more a process than a being, and even whatever the hell mycorrhiza is added something interesting. It’s a bizarre film, and it does get sluggish, but I can appreciate the ideas they were playing around with.
If you look at the title screen, which screams 1970’s, or how the credits are displayed at the end, you can see that In the Earth has a very specific, sometimes bleak, style and presentation to it. It’s not an easy movie to enjoy, in my view, but it’s definitely a movie that will have some fans for the themes it deals with, esoteric as they may well be.
I can easily imagine divided reaction to this one. I wish I personally liked it more, but some movies just aren’t easy to enjoy. Aspects of this one are great, but overall, I might need to let some other elements, along with the somewhat lackluster conclusion (beast trippy sequence aside) sink in a bit.