From In the Earth (2021), dir. Ben Wheatley (image courtesy NEON)

Many recent science fiction works have tried to comment on the abnormality and instability that COVID-19 has brought upon us. This makes In the Earth a refreshing rarity, more preoccupied with offering a good time than musing on how the plague has impacted us. Director Ben Wheatley‘s morbid sense of humor, ability to create tension through deliberate pacing, and indulgence in the experimental are at full force here, in line with his earlier films like A Field in England and Kill List than anything he’s made in recent years. One could call it a return to form after Rebecca, and a deliriously playful one at that. 

In the Earth postures at first as a simple horror film, following a pair of scientists (Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia) lost in a forest in search of another scientist. But it quickly shifts into a story about how belief — whether it be in religion or science — makes fools of us all. The narrative is sparse and much of its dialogue almost entirely meaningless; the real pleasure is the film’s visual and aural presentation. Watching excruciating maimings and characters succumbing to mysticism under Clint Mansell’s intoxicating score reinforces the menace of both the forest and humanity. It’s simply a delight.

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In the Earth is now playing in select theaters.

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