In the Earth (2021)
And so we arrive at the final film of my 2021 #31DaysofHorror, Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth. Wheatley is always interesting, and Kill List is a masterpiece, so I was happy to see him return to folk horror. He does a particular type of British awkwardness like nobody else (see Happy New Year, Colin Burstead), and that tone is present in spades here.
Martin arrives at a woodland camp controlled by the government during a deadly pandemic. He is looking for an ex-colleague, scientist Olivia Wendle, who is doing research deep in the woods. It’s a two-day hike to reach her camp, so he needs the help of park guide Alma, who tells him about the legend of the woodland spirit Parnag Wegg. They are attacked in the night, and helped by Zach, a man who lives in a makeshift camp nearby, but when he claims the trees talk to him, they begin to suspect his help comes at an awful price.
It’s a fascinating, horrible, blackly funny film about Covid, nature, group dynamics, and how humans exist in relation to other forms of life. Olivia and Zach are abusive parental figures, and Martin and Alma are trapped in their co-created psychosis. Zach has a straightforward manner that barely hides his intrinsic brutality, while Olivia’s scientific method quickly devolves into cult-speak and witchcraft. Both want to use Martin’s niceness and open-mindedness to speak to the woods through the pleasingly spooky altar stone, but it’s the pragmatic Alma who is the voice of reason and eventual conduit to the realm beneath their feet.