Reviews | Written by Matt Taylor 15/06/2021

IN THE EARTH

Ben Wheatley has never been interested in appealing to the masses, and that’s part of what makes him such a fascinating filmmaker. Most people seem to be indifferent to his movies, but those of us that love them love them dearly – and his latest, the phantasmagoric horror In the Earth, is no different. Staying true to Wheatley’s traditional style and tone while feeling entirely fresh, it’s the director’s best film in years, and shows audiences the true power of genre cinema.

We follow Martin and Alma (the excellent pairing of Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia) as they venture into a forest on a routine equipment run, but find themselves delayed by unknown and unexpected adversaries. Set against the backdrop of a world ravaged by a contagious virus (and filmed amid Covid-19 protocols last August), it’s a more meditative film than Wheatley’s previous works that asks its viewer which is really scarier: nature or the supernatural?

As ever with Wheatley, don’t expect any solid answers, because he isn’t interested in them. He’s more focused on getting his viewer to think and providing them with an experience – and In the Earth is all the better for it. The question of whether it’s nature or something supernatural haunting the woods is never answered, but it doesn’t need to be. We’re given enough clues and asked enough questions to maybe start to piece things together ourselves, but we’re never spoon-fed. Wheatley clearly trusts his audience to follow his story, and that’s something that feels more admirable with every day that passes.

Wheatley’s eye for a good cast has perhaps never been better than it is here: Fry (Game of Thrones) and Torchia (Midsommar) are on spectacular form, and elevate Wheatley’s excellent dialogue to bring everything to life. Each is superb whether they’re on their own or together, and their characters really grow to care for each other – as does the audience.

They’re supported by an excellent Hayley Squires (In Fabric) and a terrifying Reece Shearsmith (A Field in England), who round out the main cast with incredible power. We’re never quite sure which of them to trust, and any feelings of safety are quickly ripped away once the film’s more horrific set-pieces start flowing.

Speaking of horrific set-pieces, these are the best of Wheatley’s career. They’re shot beautifully and ooze tension, backed by a score from Clint Mansell that drips with malice. After a few years away from horror it’s excellent to see Wheatley back in the game – because as good as his other movies since Kill List have been, In the Earth blows them all out of the water.

Wheatley is clearly is in his element here: he knows just what buttons to press in his audience and when to press them to get the perfect reaction. In the Earth is a deeply, horrifically unsettling film, with all of Wheatley’s influences on show – from David Lynch to David Brucker’s The Ritual. It forces its viewer to question what we find scarier: nature, the supernatural, or each other – or perhaps a combination of all three.

Its final moments are unbearably haunting, and although it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, this is the mark of an incredible filmmaker at the top of his game. Regardless of what you think it all means, In the Earth will stay with you long after the credits roll. If you can get on board with it then it’s well worth your time, because this is one trip into the woods that never wants to let you go.

Release Date: June 18th (UK Cinemas)