Directed By Ben Wheatley
Starring – Joel Fry, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires
The Plot – As the world searches for a cure to a disastrous virus, a scientist (Fry) and park scout (Shearsmith) venture deep in the forest for a routine equipment run.
Rated R for strong violent content, grisly images, and adult language
– Sensually seductive. On a technical level, Wheatley’s film is an ambitiously decadent masterpiece, brought together by the marriage of sight and sound, which offer an extravagant experience for the audience immersing themselves in the unique world established in the film. Because so much of the film’s thematic pulse revolves around these audible senses, the uniqueness that Wheatley instills in presentation constantly elevates them to peak intoxication, offering a satisfyingly complex experience with the movie’s lighting and editing, which supplant us with no shortage of phantagasmic imagery that really makes this an out of body experience. Understandably, this won’t be something that some viewers, mainly epileptics, will find pleasurable, but in terms of a movie that fully illustrates its environment in visual form, there are very few that do it better than “In the Earth”, with a series of sequences so challenging in construct, yet so compelling that the movie quite literally dares us to look away, but we never can for too long.
– Relentlessly brutal. Wheatley certainly isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty as he makes the most of his evidently obvious R-rating with a series of squeamishly sinister visual gags brought to life from some expertly crafted practical effects work. In fact, the realism articulated by such open wounds and jarring gashes grants an authenticity to the experience of its characters, and the unflinching consistency of the camera’s attention paid to such mortality allows our focus to linger with the nastiness in detail that such a craft seamlessly manufactures. There are minimal uses of computer generation scattered brilliantly throughout the film, but for my money it’s the dedication paid to a bygone generation of filmmaking that earns the movie its highest marks from me, saving them sporadically for the moments when their impact can be felt the deepest, so as not to make them feel derivative with an overbearing approach.
– Lurid cinematography. Director of photography, Nick Gillespie, might have earned the Most Valuable Production of the film for me with how he directly contradicts the dark and foreboding mystery surrounding the movie’s setting with a hypnotizing series of imagery that documents everything that is beautifully serene about mother nature. The variety of camera angles, as well as their varied distance, harvests a nature film documentary to what envelopes around 90% of the movie’s shooting locations. Set in motion with a series of unnerving long takes and unpredictable editing in post production, and you have a persisting heartbeat for the infinite setting that fully fleshes out the vulnerability and isolation that these characters face in an already difficult world. Gillespie attains this with a naturalistic easing along the movie’s presentation, keeping us on our toes for the moment when everything peaceful persists to paranoia.
– Timely appropriate. Not that the movie necessarily requires emphasis on a global pandemic that has ravaged its people, but the inclusion of such to this story seems like so much more than a coincidence with its clever timing of release to the public. Because it’s mentioned so very little throughout the film’s script, there’s very little we can learn about it along the way, but my initial impressions with body language and caution paid to precaution is something that we all unfortunately have known all too well over the last 14 months, offering unintentionally satisfying moments of levity between the chaos that is surprisingly and unfortunately the most socially relevant concept that we identify with in the world of non-fiction. Nothing feels insensitive or manipulative towards using it as a tool of convenience like other uninspired films of 2020 (I refuse to list here), and the stitching together of just enough answers in exposition makes it feel all the more relevant to the manufacturing of the essential conflict.
– Echoing trance. The combination of vibrant sound mixing and synth-heavy musical score from the incredible Clint Mansell conveys depth in the ensuing environment, offering a fully immersive experience so detailed that it could competently narrate everything happening without the audience seeing a single thing. Mansell, a composer often used in Darren Aronofsky films, meticulously disperses the score only when necessary, choosing to not take away from the integrity of character engagements or performances, which I wish could match the heavy imbalance of influence that Mansell deposits. More on that a little later. As for the mixing itself, no stone is left unturned, whether it be the rhythmic chirping of the surrounding birds, or the crisp clarity of the sticks and bushes coming into influence with our characters. Everything is brilliantly mastered and elevated with the kind of audible proximity that allows us to walk a mile in the shoes of the aforementioned characters, giving us a heartbeat for the environment that makes the woods a character long before it’s manufactured in a physical capacity.
– Deeper message. Without spoiling anything, I will say that there is a fully realized message of urgency to the audience watching beyond the screen that I not only appreciated for the hefty social commentary it unveiled with respect to the narrative, but also felt worked impressively well for the way it pertains to the fictional side of the story, with all of its themes and consequences. This prescribes strong replay value for the film, in that you can go back and spot all of the instances of this environment fighting back against its captors, as well as where it hangs with the lore and world-building of what we’re taught along the way. Horror films, for the most part, usually aren’t this ambitious. For the most part, they are often a route of escapism to a world of thrills and chills that can successfully burn 90 minutes from our day. For “In the Earth”, that concept goes out the window, maintaining an intelligence for the material and bigger picture that I greatly appreciated in possibly pertaining to some hearty thought-provoking conversations.
– Satisfying answers. “In the Earth” is one of those films that candidly rewards its audience for their investment to the narrative with drops of exposition along the way to help fill in the blanks. Because of such, there are occasional moments where the drops feel forcefully heavy or obvious in a manner to clue the audience in on just what is taking shape over a rich authenticity in conversation, but I feel it’s essentially necessary in a film this cryptic to momentarily meander on the way to pivotal exposition. The reason for this is because even in a film that I feel like I knew the answers to roughly 85% of what’s going on, there’s still an unshakeable 15% that I must’ve missed along the way, proving that even the most dedicated of audience members require a little hand-holding during the complex and challenging films that push the edges of conventionalism to new and adoring heights.
– Floundering leads. Whether it can be pinned on the lack of inspiration that Wheatley paid towards his actors, or the actors themselves failing to lose themselves in the heat of the role, there was a major disconnect that I felt with these performances that I felt weighed heavily on the integrity of the pivotal scenes throughout the film. One such example takes place with a torture scene early on, where one character’s reactions and emotional enveloping unfortunately lent itself more to comedy over this terrifying and traumatic situation that I should’ve felt great empathy towards. In fact, this actor’s range quite frequently left me unsatisfied, especially considering his vapid deliveries seem to lack the authenticity of this guy being miles from where anyone can hear him, and left indefensible against an unforeseen adversary. Beyond him, the entirety of the cast fell quite flat for me, and often left me uninterested in investing towards their character. It’s an element that often broke my investment to the film, and stands as the primary conflict (Other than the startling visuals) that audiences will endure when giving this film a chance.
– Stupid decisions. Adding to the flat characterization that is limited by this unimpressive cast are a series of boneheaded choices and character motivations that felt a bit too convenient in stretching the narrative to its 102 minute lengths. One such example pertains to our duo of protagonists meeting and trusting a man who they meet only minutes after being attacked while lodged for the night. Considering this guy shows up mere minutes after this happens, maybe your welcoming bridge of peace and trust should come with a bit more caution than initially letting on to. This is only the beginning of what the script presents us with, and asks us to go along with, and after a while it grew tediously frustrating when a series of characters who refuse to learn from their growing stupidity feel confined to ever truly escape it. Dumb decisions are a cliche in horror films since the 70’s, but in a movie this psychologically stimulating with characters of a particular brand of intelligence, it’s all the more arduous when you realize they must do this so the next plot device can materialize.
– The weak link. With the intrigue of the first act setting the stage, and the mind-blowing pay-off of the third act sending audiences home with an inevitably magnified release of emotions, the film’s inferior second act feels grounded in boredom that weighed heavily on the movie’s otherwise smooth pacing. During this period in the film, there’s an overall lack of characterization progression and dialogue heavy scenes that gave viewers very little meat of substance to hang their interests on towards reaching the finish line, and the set-up of one particular new character whom we meet with about forty minutes left feels far too derivative from the movie’s opening act, only adding to the idiocy of what I previously mentioned in unmotivated character directions. Even despite the heavy exposition dumps that I previously praised, there’s an overwhelming sense of underdevelopment with this figure of fantasy, and for my money I felt that the decision to render this from a spiritual form to a physical one is one that condemned the film to being a good film as opposed to being a great one.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-