The streak of sheer disappointments continues for Ben Wheatley with In The Earth (2021), a pandemic-themed horror movie that’s confounding and opaque, with very little pay-off to sweeten the bitterness.
What is In The Earth (2021) about?
Wheatley’s film starts with a premise that sounds eerily relatable – an unknown, dangerous virus wipes out humanity. Scientists turn to nature to find a cure, setting up research centers in the vicinity of forests, in hope to find a cure for the spreading disease. One of such establishments is where Martin (Joel Fry) is sent to. Martin’s task is to venture into the woods, guided by a park ranger Alma (Allora Torchia) and check on the equipment set up in there. Soon, the two find themselves trapped in the dusky labyrinth of trees, where danger looms in every corner.
Defining this danger poses a serious challenge for Wheatley. In the pre-horror phase of the story, Wheatley takes Joel Fry and Allora Torchia on a melancholic hike. The two delve into conversations we’ve all had over the past months, about the meaning of the mid-to-post pandemic reality and how to find your social mojo again. Not that they aren’t relevant to the film’s narrative, but Wheatley’s central figures have a negative balance of charisma. Watching these two soulless people feels like an ordeal already, and that doesn’t bode well for anything that comes afterwards.
Yet truly, it’s the second half of the film that finally sinks this ship. While the first half makes you wanna put matchsticks to hold your eyelids, Wheatley’s overly ambitious reveal completely jeopardizes the relatability of In The Earth (2021). It’s no longer a projection of timely fears, but a whole bunch of murky storytelling and visual gimmicks and vaguely written science, that amount to just about a hard pass. There’s a huge discrepancy between what Wheatley sells initially and where the script takes Martin and Alma. In spite of a few bloody moments – visceral in a manner typical for the British director – dread’s not effective here.
On top of that, In The Earth (2021) is just a woefully tiring experience for one’s senses. Jolts of all sorts – blinking lights, psychedelic music, bizarre plot twists with no foundation – are all in abundance here. Wheatley’s unsure of what he’s aiming for. Sadly, because In The Earth (2021) had a shot at an indie horror darling that captured the challenges many of us have ahead.
In the past, Ben Wheatley made a name for himself for pushing the envelope wherever it’s possible. A Kill List (2011) was the director’s unparalleled opus magnum, an astounding piece of occult-themed scare-fest with some deeply discomforting gore. A slightly less successful A Field In England (2013) ended up being a sumptuous auteur effort, destined to earn more divisive reviews. Wheatley never got to the level of earlier works, and even though In The Earth (2021) bears more resemblance to his experimental horror flicks, rather than action-lacking Free Fire (2016), it’s a definite miss.
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