In The Earth is the latest film from director Ben Wheatley, a hallucinogenic trip into the woods that you definitely want to forget the next morning. Despite an intriguing opening act, the film descends into utter confusion which had me leaving the cinema scratching my head in despair.
Known for unusual and/or cult films like Sightseers (a favourite of mine), A Field in England and Free Fire, I’d been expecting something unusual from writer-director Ben Wheatley – just not this unusual. In the Earth follows Dr Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) as he emerges from isolation following a national pandemic (sound familiar?). He’s joining a colleague, Dr Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires), who’s conducting work looking at improving crop growth efficiency. Martin arrives at an isolated lodge, where there are countless signs of a country emerging from a pandemic – decontamination checks, lateral flow tests, hand sanitiser – the works. He meets with park ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia), who will be his guide on his 3-day trek through the woods to Dr Wendle’s camp.
Martin and Alma head out into the woods, where we find out subtle hints about the real nature of his relationship with Olivia. Soon the trek turns dangerous when the pair are attacked and knocked unconscious in their tents as they sleep. They wake up injured, their shoes stolen, their camp vandalised and any communication devices smashed. Now without equipment, Martin and Alma head through the woods barefoot when Martin badly injures his foot after standing on a sharp implement. After fashioning a crutch from a broken branch, they continue on where they encounter Zach (Reece Shearsmith), a loner who has been living in the woods during the pandemic. Initially friendly, he invites them back to his tent to provide them with food, shoes and first aid, but soon his true intentions become apparent as Martin and Alma face a nightmare situation.
To begin with, In The Earth starts off well. The opening scene featuring Martin walking up a deserted road to a rather ominous score sets a great tone and the pandemic rules and checks that we all know well are darkly fun. Martin and Alma’s following trek through the woods is eerily atmospheric and foreboding, and the attack on their camp genuinely made me jump it was so unexpected. Unfortunately, it’s when Zach appears on the scene that the film descends into confusion. I adore Reece Shearsmith, but Zach as a character is ridiculously clichéd – a pair trusting a creepy loner for help has been done to death – and his motivations are incredibly incomprehensible. From the moment Zach starts babbling about “him” and things “in the earth”, I just couldn’t get my head around what was going on. Even Dr Wendle’s appearance later in the film with an explanation didn’t help and aside from some vague notions about a stone with a hole in it, an old ritual using sound and light and some magic mushrooms, I still wouldn’t be able to tell you the minutiae of the plot.
The cinematography does nothing to help the story either. The trippy hallucinogenic scenes are confused and succeeded in nothing more than giving me a headache. And unfortunately, the choice of camera work for this was incredibly poor. I’m not a fan of the shaky camera style, aside from in choice found footage films. I especially don’t like the camera choices used here, which takes on an almost first-person view along with a very shaky camera whenever there is any form of movement on-screen. It made me feel quite nauseous and detracted from the dialogue and action on screen.
The cast are good and the script isn’t bad, but unfortunately for me, the camera work and entirely nonsensical plot made this difficult to watch to the point where I would’ve been quite happy to walk out halfway through (which isn’t something I take lightly!). Never before have I watched a film with a less than 2 hour run time that felt like it was on for 20. I really wanted to like In The Earth but despite the promising start, the baffling and absurd plot left me wishing I hadn’t bothered.
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!