Movie Review: Ben Wheatley’s ‘In the Earth’ (2021)

There’s no delicate way around it; 2020 was universally awful for about 90% of the world. Health scares, quarantine, isolation, and misinformation ran rampant. Facts became irrelevant and changeable overriding truth. It was an experience that will define multiple generations throughout the world. While all this happened, Director Ben Wheatley (Rebecca, Kill List) decided to reflect and strike while the iron was hot, so to speak, and made In the Earth, a genre defying film.

Synopsis for In the Earth:

As the world searches for a cure to a disastrous virus, a scientist and park scout venture deep in the forest for a routine equipment run. Through the night, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through the heart of darkness as the forest comes to life around them.

Conceptually, In the Earth put me at a personal crossroads going in. I am a fan of some of Wheatley’s prior films, particularly Free Fire and Kill List, but the subject matter in this one put me on edge. We’re not out of the woods yet, so to speak (pun not intentional for once) in regards to the global pandemic, so the material feels very much too soon. It’s still ongoing, so I’m fairly sure no one has forgotten what this is like. However, in press material, Wheatley does mention that he felt a moral and personal obligation to share this “in the moment” feeling, comparing it to being in Europe in 1946. You couldn’t make a film and not compare it to what you just went through. Given this, I wanted to give it an honest shot…

Credit where credit is due, In the Earth does reach for some lofty themes tied into pandemic: isolation, mental instability, lack of understanding of your place in your environment, personal re-evaluation. However, the film seems to exhibit a lot of first draft qualities. It switches genres roughly every 15 to 20 minutes, going from drama to torture porn to environmental fantasy horror to a full blown psychedelic finale, and none of the characters leave much impression about what type of person they are or were before entering the forest.  While I feel like Wheatley could pull off any one of these genres, the film feels very misguided in what it’s trying to say.

Final Thoughts:

Though the film has a lot of first draft qualities, particularly in writing and direction, In The Earth does have some eerie moments, and Clint Mansell’s score elevates it from being something I’d call bad, creating a soundscape that transports the audience through the strange journey. The film is now out in theaters, so check it out for yourself!

About Chris Filipowicz

Born in small town Montana, Chris is a writer, artist, raccoon rehabilitator, and general supporter of disability rights and awareness. He loves film, especially horror, sci-fi, and animation; and has read comics since he was a child.

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