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Review: 'In The Earth' a Moody, Intellectual, Genre Piece That Never Quite Takes Off

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 16, 2021
'In The Earth'
'In The Earth'  (Source:Neon)

Director Ben Wheatley ("High Rise") goes full-tilt sci-fi/horror with his latest called "In the Earth." Sort of a gory sister to "Annihilation" (2018), this moody, intellectual genre piece revolves around scientist Martin (Joel Fry) and park scout Alma (Ellora Torchia), who head deep into the woods to do an equipment check for scientists looking for a cure to a global virus.

While things seem to be going well, before the duo can make it to their destination (which is days away from where they started) they are attacked and injured by an unseen enemy, only to be picked up by a stranger named Zach (Reece Shearsmith) who lives in the woods as a hermit.

But Zach isn't exactly the guardian angel they expected, and soon enough he has the two tied up and begins to do terrible things to them that he insists are necessary to stave off illness. Meanwhile, there are strange sounds coming from deep in the woods that could be related to an old legend of a witch that haunts them.

Wheatley has crafted a handsome film that looks terrific with moody and evocative sound design. However, it's hard to track what the film wants to be. Is it about the witch in the woods? Is it about trying to communicate with nature, which seems to be in communication with itself? Does it want to be a body horror film, or something more profound?

While the performances by the cast are game, once a scientist named Olivia (Hayley Squires) shows up to explain her own experiments, things get nutty and muddled. There are some terrific scenes and moments of mystery and terror that keep your attention, but, ultimately, it's hard to decipher Wheatley's intentions.

The main theme seems to be about our relationship to nature and how, when faced with a virus, we need to seek its help. But will it want to help us? While this is an intriguing premise, it does feel like the film goes a bit off the rails in the last act and doesn't fulfill its philosophical promise.

There's certainly stuff to appreciate and enjoy here, but "In the Earth" attempts to soar to psychedelic heights, yet in the end it remains earthbound without a clear destination.

"In the Earth" will arrive in theatres April 16th.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.

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