A scientist (Joel Fry) makes his way into remote woods with a ranger (Ellora Tachia) to help with a research project hoping to find a cure for a virus that is plaguing the world. While traveling deeper into the woods, they encounter a sinister presence...
Ben Wheatley's movies have always tended to acknowledge the wider world, but always with a certain amount of wry observation. 'High Rise' was about the rigid social structures and the chaos that ultimately comes from societal collapse. 'Happy New Year, Colin Burstead' was an unforgiving examination of post-Brexit Britain told through a family drama, while 'Free Fire' examined gun violence through a genre lens. With 'In The Earth', the current pandemic looms over every second of it.
Joel Fry's character is introduced in the middle of quarantine, and the stage is set during a swab test, complete with copious amounts of hand-washing and idle talk about what's going on in the outside world. Everyone's a little weird, a little anxious, not really certain of what's going on, and trying to make polite conversation out of it all. Yet, through it all, there's a brooding sense of paranoia and the idea that the trauma hasn't yet been processed because everyone's still living through it. This isn't the sole purpose of 'In The Earth', and though the unnamed virus and the pandemic setting play a part, what it drives at is something entirely different. Writer-director Ben Wheatley lays out a complex backstory for the evil lurking in the woods and, sadly, bogs down the pacing down with unnecessary exposition and dries things up pretty quickly.
Yes, the movie is going for deep, metaphysical topics about the conflict between science and nature, humanity's interaction and relationship with nature, how little we truly grasp of nature itself, but the manner in which it tries to do this is almost as mind-boggling as the movie's extensive psychedelic sequences. The two main characters, played by Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia, are subjected to brain-sizzling experiences that completely disorients them and makes the horrors they experience all the more vivid. Of course, it being Ben Wheatley, there's pitch-black humour thrown in and one sequence involving an appendage being removed is equal parts wince-inducing and guffaw-producing.
The cast really does go with the flow of it, and you feel every sensation that comes from their anguish. Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia both hold their own against Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires, and the dynamic that occurs between them all drives a lot of the tension and the madness from the movie.
Wheatley regularly changes up things throughout the movie to keep you off-balance. Even the camera's frame-rate regularly shifts between gorgeous, cinematic imagery to rough handheld in a single scene. Again, the goal is to completely throw you off and unsettle things, and it works. You'll come away from 'In The Earth' with your ears ringing and your eyes stinging, not to mention your brain lightly curdled along with it. It's by no means a pleasant experience going through it, but you come out the other side of it with a few scenes and shots lodged in your gut for days after.