Whether it is about being in a streaming service or theaters, modern psychotronic movies have the quality of being uniform in proficiency and effect. However low the budget may be, the digital video polish is quite high, the scary moments are adequately dark, and the narratives come with rote concepts and angst.
It appears that a satisfactory 4K camera and a Blumhouse Productions study are enough to have your film on Amazon or Hulu without much effort. Check any IMBD compilation of horror films, and it would be obvious to you that the genre’s fans are only into the scares. That would make you long for the times of early David Cronenberg, Bob Clark, and George Romero, when uncomfortable concepts combined with equally uncomfortable and distinctively threadbare topography. See any recent horror film, and it is understandable why you could be unsure whether you have watched it earlier.
A true taste in ironic and strange cinema, i.e., the unpredictability of an auteur, is perhaps what is needed now. That is why many people like the work of filmmaker Ben Wheatley. You can easily mistake Wheatley’s gnarly work for a different filmmaker’s output.
Wheatley’s new movie, entitled ‘In The Earth’, shows him doing what he does well: The native horror stuff made with a small amount of money. Think Wheatley in the bristling and disconcerting micro-maybe-bad dream space of films Kill List, Down Terrance, High-Rise, and Sightseers.
During 2020’s summer lockdown, the maker wrote and filmed this movie that revisits British paganism in the form of a religious obsession. It is an obsession with the strange feeling of frightening amplitude emerging from what might already be a quite modest piece of wilderness. Has anyone converted their forests and moors into myth in a more intense way than the people of England? Wheatley likes to make a stab at culture and history, and the director’s best moments have animistic paranoia on a high note. Those moments are deeply distrustful of not just the green zone but also the deranged creatures found there.
The epidemic makes us want to be immersed in the wilderness. When it comes to this film, that is a roughly defined conserved forest area that researchers use and is protected from the general public. In Wheatley’s tale, it is mid-epidemic when a reticent and young scientist appears for his nasal swab following a prolonged period of quarantine. Joel Fry’s scientist aims to study the mycorrhizal networks of the area, i.e., the tree roots and fungi that support each other, plus find a research facility. The facility has some pieces of equipment that matter to their quest for an important cure.
Then again, the scientist’s journey through the wilderness is so fraught with its wild secrets that the deeper he goes into it, the more frightening it gets. Oddly for a Wheatley film, every character appears calm and normal here, including Ellora Torchia’s park ranger Alma. While Joel Fry’s research scientist is timid and fussy, Torchia’s Alma is impatient and tough. In the hostile wilderness, the movie’s characters are attacked at night only to make them wake up feeling beaten up and unpossessed.
Nobody else should be out there in the woods, but the characters come across Reece Shearsmith’s Zach there. Zach is avoiding a diseased society. When Zach sews up injuries as well as gives food to the bedraggled people on his property, we distrust him even when those people do not. After that, the bedraggled duo starts to pass out. Zach is a white character, unlike his victims. You may interpret that fact in any way you want. That erudite and homeless man dresses smartly and photographs those victims’ unconscious bodies. Then, he develops the photographs for his own paganist reasons.
That is when you realize that you are watching a Ben Wheatley film, where psychotropic subjectivity and eccentric invention start interfering with our possible expectation of a standard horror movie.
The situation becomes unnerving, but do not walk into an LA theater expecting generic jolt moments from this film. It wobbles and goes in multiple directions through its paranoid and loamy territory, which is precisely what gives it some zip. It has chaos as well as consistently resonant visuals. The interiors of Zach are covered in red-colored plastic, which suggests that the character and the audience are in a giant’s stomach. At the same time, a pregnant menace seems imminent in the intimately shot forest.
The crazed characters in it have a mutant opinion about the Green Man myth. Besides, the film has the eventual threat of a spore frog mass on a mushroom. With those elements, Wheatley’s movie appears as a wilder, more coherent version of nature-gone-berserk as compared to Jeff VanderMeer’s growth-dread stories. Even the recent sci-fi film Annihilation appears less coherent and wild as compared to Wheatley’s movie. You may now see it in select theaters of Los Angeles.