In The Earth (2021)

Quick synopsis: Two people (Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia) attempt to find a cure for a virus in a forest. Weird shit happens in this incredibly British folk-horror.

Ben Wheatley, he’s a weird one isn’t he? Well I’m assuming he’s weird because his films are really strange. But they’re strange in a kind of dreary way, where his films sometimes feel like you’re slowly moving through a dense swamp. The films of his I’m most familiar with are Sightseers and Free Fire, and tonally they’re completely different. And that’s not taking into account the sheer batshit insanity of A Field In England and the brutality of Kill List. You never know exactly what you’re going to get with Wheatley, but you know you’re going to get something unlike anything you’ve seen before.

And this? This is unlike anything else. The best way to describe it would be a, and bear with me here, a plant-based horror film. It’s nature infecting people and killing them. It’s hard to go into more details without spoiling it. Normally I freely spoil plot points in these reviews, but I’m not going to do this. For the same reason I didn’t spoil Searching or Knives Out, part of the pleasure in this film is watching it all unfurl.

Okay, maybe “pleasure” isn’t the right word. You don’t really “enjoy” this movie so much as survive it. It’s a horrific experience, but in a good way. The kaleidoscopic images really fuck with your head and make you feel like you’re suffering like the main characters are. It’s really good at putting you in their shoes, making you feel just as disorientated as they are. Just as pained too, especially in a scene where the main character gets his toes amputated, without anaesthetic. It’s brutal, disturbing, and weirdly funny. Wheatley is great at that, he makes you laugh at things you really shouldn’t. It probably helps that he works extensively with comedic actors; Alice Lowe, Julian Barrett, and Reece Shearsmith (better known now for the absolutely sublime Inside No. 9). Shearsmith is also in this, but surprisingly he’s not leading. That honour goes to Joel Fry, known better for his television work in Game Of Thrones, Plebs, and Trollied. It’s a bold choice to have him lead, but it’s one that pays off. He has that everyman quality which makes him easy to identify with, so when we see him suffer, we emphasise with him.

My biggest disappointment was that I didn’t get a chance to see this at the cinema. I had trailers for it but for whatever reason it wasn’t released locally to me. It’s a shame as I feel this on a big screen in a dark room would have been an intense experience, and one I sadly won’t get to partake in.

Narratively, not everything works. But the type of film this is, that doesn’t work too much against it. It withholds quite a lot of information from you, but that kind of works as the stuff it doesn’t tell you would be hard to bring up without it seeming like unnatural exposition. It would make the audience feel too much like they’re viewing something on a screen. The way it is it makes it feel like you’re actually living it.

There is a high chance you will hate this film. From the way I’ve gone on about it you may think it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It’s not, it’s a solid 7/10 for me, it’s something I appreciated more than I liked. But it’s something I’m very glad I watched. And it’s something very unique, and that has to be applauded.

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