My Piece: In the Earth (2021)

To listen to this review, visit the episode on Atomic Radio.

In the Earth is a somewhat psychedelic horror film written, directed and edited by Ben Wheatley.

The British-American film features up-and-comer Joel Fry as Martin Lowery, a scientist sent to a small governmental outpost near Bristol to investigate the bizarrely fertile landscape of the surrounding woods. Assisted by a forest guide named Alma, Martin treks through the woods in search of a former colleague who had been assigned to increase the efficiency of harvesting crops there, while feeling strangely captivated by the local flora.

The film was released to the US on April 16th of 2021 after being produced and directed over the course of roughly two weeks, and currently holds a 5.2/10 on IMDb, with many reviews citing a staleness in the performances of the protagonists with a supposed lack of character development, as well as a disappointing ending.

I actually found myself very pleasantly surprised by In the Earth. The performances of Fry and Reece Shearsmith in particular, I found incredibly realistic and captivating. The dialogue exchanged between the characters of Martin and Alma were exceptionally reasonable and immersively realistic, proven in scenes where they discuss what to do next and why through a train of thought that comes off as very natural to me. The delivery from these characters and Shearsmith’s is strikingly authentic, with smoothly-flowing speech quirks and properly-paced pauses. At no point did I find myself annoyed by these characters, nor did I personally find them lacking in development or really any other facet.

I did find the performance of Hayley Squires to be rather bland and unmoving, however, with her character delivering very monotonous dialogue and a near absence of theatrical depth. I would suspect that this was how her character was written, and is less an issue with her dramatic prowess, but it did feel a bit distracting from the rest of the product given how authentic the rest of the characters seem.

The cinematography is very well done, incorporating several scenes shot very closely to the ground during tense situations to inhibit stress, multiple beautifully artistic shots of the environment and professionally-framed characters, etc.

To boot, In the Earth is one of very few films that I’ve watched and decided to download its soundtrack afterward. The score, composed by Clint Mansell, is an alternative series of tracks with very toned down drones and seemingly hypnagogic tunes that capture the atmosphere of the film with absolute perfection. It isn’t a soundtrack to listen to while you go about your day, I’d say, but I find it very captivating and even soothing in the right setting. Exceptionally well done.

Production is exceptional without being excessive, I imagine quite deliberately in fact. With the entirety of the film taking place in the woods near Bristol, the only necessary architecture is that of tents and folding chairs, with ragtag gadgets assembled quite sparingly. The points where the film becomes gruesome can hold a candle to any challenge, even making myself grit my teeth and wince at the TV in empathetic pain.

And finally, I of course found the writing to be very compelling for the most part. The story is one that makes sense for the characters to follow, their motivations being very coherent and their interactions adequately authentic. Where I will say the film does lack in this category, unfortunately, is in fact the ending. I found the ending of In the Earth to be terribly underwhelming, with the urgent plotlines being satisfied but the grand plot being especially open and without elaboration. I have tremendous doubt that you will feel ultimately gratified by the climax of the film, and your anticipations will be harshly redirected. But, as always, I do not know best.

In closing, In the Earth is a pleasantly engaging sort of horror but barely if at all film with a very healthy repertoire of cinematic strengths, and weaknesses few in number but effective in action. Personally, I really enjoyed it, if only for the soundtrack and the character interactions. I took an excessively long time figuring out if it would remain in my library or not, but for the time being, I think I’m gonna hold onto it. I’m not sure how long it’ll be until I’m ready for a rewatch, but I found it worth the initial one.

That’s My Piece.

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