In British folk horror, In the Earth, the world is in the grip of a pandemic when scientist Martin Lowery is called in by the government to attend a facility located just outside of Bristol. The government want Martin to assist with an important study into crop efficiency, which is currently being conducted in the surrounding woods by his former girlfriend, Olivia.
After passing through quarantine procedures and having his medical history checked, Martin is briefed on his assignment. He is to travel into the woods with a forest guide called Alma, to meet up with Olivia and provide his expertise.
While waiting to set off, Martin learns of a local legend by the name of Parnag Fegg – a spirit said to dwell in the nearby woodlands. This spirit is something which Martin doesn’t pay much attention to, and the following morning he thinks nothing of it as he and Alma set off on their mission.
But shortly into their hike they are attacked by an unseen assailant, who destroys their equipment and steals their shoes. Could this incident be connected to the woodland spirit, or is something else lurking close by?
Written and directed by Ben Wheatley, In the Earth stars Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith, and Hayley Squires. The movie opened in 2021, playing in select cinemas before arriving on video on demand services, but from this week, it makes its UK TV debut via SKY/NOW.
Produced on a shoestring budget, with a very small cast, In the Earth is a horror movie aimed squarely at those who love psychological pieces. It is not a film concerned with jump scares or magnificent monsters, instead it hopes to unnerve and unsettle with thoughts and ideas.
For the most part, In the Earth works well. It has some strong moments, it hits just the right tone and mood, and there are a couple of scenes guaranteed to have audiences wincing in delight.
One scene in particular involves an axe and a set of toes, and is both gruesome and funny. While this movie is a horror film, largely played straight, there are elements of black humour sprinkled throughout.
However, In the Earth suffers a little due to its running time and its anticlimactic ending. The film feels unnecessarily padded in places, specifically toward the conclusion, and this is an issue.
So, while I like In the Earth and think it is a good little horror, I wasn’t completely bowled over by it. Somewhere between the beginning and the end it lost me a touch, and I came away feeling as if I wasn’t completely satisfied.
I believe the movie would have benefited greatly from a bit of additional editing, to trim some of the running time. I think the narrative could have done with a touch more focus too.
The film bathes in ambiguity, and that’s fine, but there are moments where things could have been reined in to make the story richer. I also feel the use of psychedelic imagery in the film is at times excessive and unnecessary.
The aforementioned conclusion is jam-packed with an onslaught of imagery, which is a tad jarring. It feels like writer/director Ben Wheatley doesn’t quite now how to bring the film to an end, so uses random imagery to fill in the blanks.
But looking past these issues, there is still a great deal to like in this movie. The cast are excellent – especially Reece Shearsmith – and there are some scenes which remain in the mind once the credits roll.
There is also an ominous, foreboding atmosphere about the whole thing, which Wheatly really nails from the get-go. It is the sort of film you know is going to be a mind-bending, twisted experience before you even begin, and this allows you to really immerse yourself in what lies ahead.
While not perfect, In the Earth has enough going for it to keep things interesting. The low-budget approach to the story is part of its charm, and Wheatly knows how to bring out the horror when needed.
It’s a shame the film seems to lose its way in places, but the shortcomings don’t derail the picture. Approach In the Earth knowing it has a couple of issues, and you should find the experience mostly to your liking.