Title: In the Earth
Describe This Movie Using One Day of the Triffids Quote:
TOM: Keep behind me. There's no sense in getting killed by a plant.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Flora flusters fauna.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 Mark Wahlbergs out of 5.
Tagline: "Nature is a force of evil."
Better Tagline: "There is unrest in the forest. There is trouble with the trees."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Mankind is suffering from a terrible pandemic (sound familiar?), which doesn't stop Martin (Joel Fry) from traveling to a remote English nature preserve to conduct his crop experiments. He's escorted to his destination by Alma (Ellora Torchia), a park ranger. As they venture deeper into the woods, it becomes apparent that stranger things than the virus are afoot.
"Critical" Analysis: Writer/director Ben Wheatley wrote and directed In the Earth over a 15 day stretch in autumn of last year, as COVID brought the rest of the world to a standstill. It's an impressive achievement that — even accounting for the the external factors and macro themes at play — nevertheless resulted in a disjointed end product.
Worse (for a horror movie), it's just not that scary.
Wheatley tries to make it so, of course. In addition to the pandemic itself (posed as significantly more severe than our current one), there's Parnag Fegg, the mystical forest guardian spirit introduced through not-at-all ominous children's drawings. Add Lovecraftian references (the Malleus Maleficarum figures somewhat prominently) and Clint Mansell's foreboding score (including genuine plant noises!) and the stage is set for otherworldly frights.
Unfortunately, what we end up with is heavy on ambition and light on payoff. Martin and Alma soon realize they aren't alone in the woods, and an attack by unseen assailants leads to their encounter with the hermit-like Zach (Reece Shearsmith), which should set off more alarms. After several grotesque injuries and some plot exposition courtesy of Zach's ex (and Martin's former mentor), Dr. Wendle (Hayley Squires), things finally start coming into focus.
You can't fault Wheatley for going and making a movie while the rest of us were gushing about our sourdough starters, but when you're the writer, director, *and* editor, the responsibility for a film feeling rushed or unfinished falls squarely on your shoulders, and that's unfortunately the case here.
Why is "nature" choosing now of all times to reawaken? Why is the soil of this particular forest "unusually fertile," as Martin puts it? Why does Parnag Fegg want its followers to dress like extras from MIdsommar?
The climax of the film, which finds all our principles assembled for the entity's mysterious purpose, works the best. Wheatley conveys the difficulty of communicating across taxonomic boundaries well, and the scene would compare favorably to 2001 if it wasn't also reminiscent of the poppy sequence in The Wizard of Oz or the feel-good spore planet in Star Trek.*
The question of whether nature's indifferent cruelty is better or worse than man's conscious atrocities is an old one, and Wheatley's desire to tackle it seems sincere. In that case, maybe next time he'll spend more than two weeks on the effort.
*Omicron Seti III. Don't @ me, nerds.
In the Earth is in select theaters now.
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