Film Review: In The Earth

STUDIO: Neon | DIRECTOR: Ben Wheatley | CAST: Joel Frey, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires, Ellora Torchia, John Hollingworth, Mark Monero
RELEASE DATE: April 16, 2021
SPECS: R | 100 min. | Horror

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  1/2

Writer/director Ben Wheatley (High-Rise) has returned to his twisted ways with the inspired and frustratingly convoluted horror film In The Earth.

The world is in the midst of a pandemic (sound familiar?) and scientist Martin Lowery (Joel Fry, Yesterday) has left quarantine to venture deep in the forest, aided by park ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia, Midsommar), to look for his colleague Dr. Oliva Wendle (Hayley Squires, TV’s Collateral) who is conducting research into the woodland’s mysterious lore and hasn’t been heard from in months. After they are attacked by unknown forces that steal all their supplies, Martin and Alma stumble upon squatter Zach (Reece Shearsmith, The Man You’re Not) and take him up on his offer of help, even though his tent compound screams ‘I’m the Dexter of the forest.’ When Zach drugs the pair and uses them as part of a bizarre ritual to commune with the woods, Martin and Alma’s journey becomes a terrifying fight for survival.

The briskness of the film’s development — written in the early days of the pandemic and shot it in just 15 days – clearly didn’t hurt its overall production value. Wheatley’s weird and warped style is on full display with hallucinogenic dream sequences and psychedelic disorienting strobe lights sprinkled with mythical occult spiritualism all framed in ways that make the action feel claustrophobic, even in the great outdoors. Plus, there are enough gross out moments and suspenseful scary scenes to keep genre fans happy. The right blend of music and sound design is essential to any horror film and the work by composer Clint Mansell (Ghost in the Shell) and sound producer Martin Pavey (Free Fire) truly stands out. Mansell’s striped down score is full of synthesized, shrieking strings with long piercing ringing that’s reminiscent of a bad bout of tinnitus—it’s the perfect accompaniment to the unnerving atmosphere Wheatley crafts, with Pavey’s crisp sound editing and mixing heightening it further. As Zach chases Martin through the forest with an axe, the sharp sound of the blade slicing through the brush might be one of the most chilling things I’ve ever heard.

If the storyline had a bit more clearly defined, In The Earth would have made more of an impact. Wheatley explores the familiar and now-topical themes of pandemic anxiety, nature rebelling against man’s destruction, isolation and the need for connection to each other and the planet we live on, but he never really brings them all together in a coherent and compelling way. The mythology that was driving the plot is foundational and it’s simply too muddled. In the quieter moments, the film misses the opportunity to build the film’s characters and motivations, lessening our connection to them and of us developing any strong feeling about whether or not they make it out alive–Zach is strange for the sake of being strange and Dr. Wendle seems to exist mainly to provide exposition.

With In The Earth, Wheatley rebounds from last year’s misfire version of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca but doesn’t quite equal the excellence of his second feature, 2011’s Kill List.

About Janine

Janine is a dedicated fan of the 1940 film Kitty Foyle, directed by Sam Wood, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. And seeing that film is all it took to make her a lifelong movie lover. Janine is excited to add her insights to the great team at