Life & Culture

Film review: In the Earth

This folk horror film hits the spot for Linda Marric


Ben Wheatley’s last film was an ill-fated Netflix adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca. The film was largely panned by critics, but I was impressed by its direction and flawless cinematography.

Fans of Wheatley’s earlier horror offerings will be pleased to know that the writer/director of such gems as Kill List, A Field In England and Sightseers is back once again to his more “rough around the edges” roots with the release of In The Earth, a chilling folk horror.

In the wake of an undisclosed pandemic which saw the world ravaged by a deadly virus, Martin Lowery (a solid turn by Joel Fry), is a scientist sent to a government-controlled outpost near Bristol to study its unusually fertile forested area.

Shortly after arriving, Martin is informed by local park guard Alma (Ellora Torchia) of the legend of the Parnag Fegg, a mythical woodland spirit that inhabits the area.

The next morning Martin and Alma begin a two day journey to join doctor Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires) who has been studying some unusual phenomena in the earth. On their second night in the woods, Martin and Alma are attacked by a mysterious assailant who steals their shoes, leaving them stranded. Help soon comes in the shape of Zach (Reece Shearsmith at his sinister best) who offers them shelter and food. But can this caring stranger really be trusted? Place your bets.

It’s fair to say that Wheatley can do this kind of stuff in his sleep. His ability to build a world full of mystery, intrigue and dread is second to none. There are obvious parallels to be drawn with classic and even more recent folk horrors —notably Ari Aster’s Midsommar — but the film to me feels like it has more in common with Alex Garland’s brilliant sci-fi horror Annihilation with its trippy kaleidoscopic trickeries.

All in all, this is a brilliantly imagined, well acted and thoroughly compelling offering from a writer-director who is a cut above the rest when it comes to small scale horror productions.

And, as this is Wheatley, there is more than a soupçon of tongue-in-cheek humour floating around and that is exactly why the film works.

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