Director: Ben Wheatley Starring: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires, Reece Shearsmith. UK. 1h 47m
Ben Wheatley hit the movie scene with a handful of cracking gritty and unusual films which instantly gained my a cult status and loyal fans, a mix of hard british brutality, comedy and strongest flavoured his early titles and it was only going to be a matter of time before he got bigger budget movies and we all knew this was going to be a downfall for him. He proved that with Rebecca and High Rise he was able to make a movie outside of his own prescribed type cast but ultimately these films weren’t half as interesting as his other gripping and guttural work.
and then he came back swinging with In the Earth.
There’s not much build up to the reasons why this anything in this film is happening, we guess there’s a collapse in society, probably after a disease, it’s not too hard to picture this as we were still among covid lockdowns when the film was released and if this was the picture of a world returning to normal then I’d rather have another lockdown.
In the Earth opens with star Martin Lowery (Fry ) arriving at a research centre a few miles away from the camp of a brilliant scientist, moments after arriving and being cleasense as if covid is still floating around, he notices a woodcut and story about a mythical witch and legendary stone pillar. Has Wheatly taken a page from Ari Aster’s book and laid out the entire plot of the movie in the form of folk art and a quick chat with co-star Alma (Torchia )?
The pair pack up and head on a hike only to be interrupted by a strange hermit/hobo Zach (Shearsmith) who in the guise of a harmless forest dweller has a sinister glint in his eye. Having worked with Whately before the two really did make some cinematic magic, his character is the toughest to decipher and he’s one of the more gritty on board, his secret hobby involves some really chilling photography set ups..
It’s apparent that Wheatly doesn’t like Joel Fry very much, maybe it’s punishment for leaving Plebs but some terribly torturous things happens to him every step of the way in this movie, not quite Christ like but not far off. He does an excellent job holding this trippy movie together, that, at times sort of feels like a sequel to A Field in England, you can easily imagine this all taking place on the same field only years into the future, maybe the possession and events from then are still affecting the fearful scientist today?
Without a detailed explanation there’s a slow breakdown of the characters and some unnamed revelations towards the end of the movie, an attempt to connect with a witch-like entity connected with a stone plinth. This subject has been present in a lot of folk horror through the ages, from the Stone Tape and Quatermass, even In the Tall Grass and hay 2001 A Space odyssey all feature the idea of stone recordings, or something buried deep with an earth object that records, stores and projects a consciousness, and Wheatly takes it a step further with this nature communication being about protection from us and our destruction of nature.
There’s a really cool scene when a huge step to contact the stone is being made, involving taking a huge dose of shrooms and a music and light show resulting in new age field rave… and i’m up for some of that just maybe with the homicide.
Related: A Field in England (2013), The Stone Tapes (1972), Lapsis (2020),
Lists: Folk Horror, Monoliths in Movies
Spotlight: Ben Wheatly, Reece Smearsmith