I’m going to start by saying I’m a big Ben Wheatley fan. I love his early work like The Kill List, A Field in England, Sightseers, which are very odd, very surreal movies. I have enjoyed his more commercial work, High-Rise, Free Fire and his remake of Rebecca was very good. I personally think his strengths lie in his independent work and writing. Ben took the time to write and direct the movie In The Earth during the pandemic, going back to his roots of small, independent movies.
In The Earth
The plot is simple :
As the world searches for a cure to a disastrous virus, a scientist and park scout venture deep in the forest for a routine equipment run.
It is a “people head into the forest” horror movie, which I always find off putting when reading a synopsis, but this was Ben Wheatley so I was happy to try it. I won’t go into the story too much, but Martin (played by Joel Fry) is a researcher who has come to a forest in England where the land is very fertile. He and Alma (Ellora Torchia), a Park Ranger, walk into the forest to find Olivia (Hayley Squires) who is by herself in a research camp in the middle of the woods.
It seems the land is very fertile because of a local legend, Parnag Fegg, a local woodland spirit. The first act sets up the characters and story. The second act introduces Zack (Reece Shearsmith) and things take an odd turn. The third act is very… ummmm… psychedelic.
Outside Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires that is pretty much it for the cast. There are a couple of actors at the beginning, to help the story along, but then we only follow the four players listed.
One great thing about Wheatley is that he really gets the best from his actors and everyone in this is fantastic! In particular League Of Gentleman star Reece Shearsmith, who I think is a very underrated actor, he really shines here.
At the core of the movie are the many local legends. The spirit of the woods, the lady of the lake, and so on. Some people think it is real magic or supernatural, others believe there is a scientific reason for such things. What if the legend of The Blair Witch was tried to be explained with science? I thought that this movie was The Blair Witch, with the ending of 2001.
This will split a lot of people. Reading up about the movie online, some people on IMDb hated it. “The worst movie I’ve ever seen!” was one of the typical responses. I’m guessing most of the people who hated it are the same people that need a story spelled out for them, so they don’t have to do any thinking.
One thing I love about Wheatley’s early work is that YOU have to think about the movie, there isn’t an obvious narrative, you can make up your own mind on the story. In The Earth is very much like that. I thought about it a lot while laying in bed and I have my own views about it, but they might be completely different from how someone else sees it…and I love that!
It’s not going to be everyone’s cuppa tea and I do understand why some people dislike it, but if you want to see something different, something surreal and something that is definitely not Hollywood, I would recommend it. If you liked A Field in England or Kill List, you will like this.