In The Earth [Sundance21]

Reece Shearsmith appears in In the Earth by Ben Wheatley, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Neon. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

If you saw our write-up for our most anticipated films of the festival, you’d know that In The Earth was high on my list. But that’s given since Ben Wheatley keeps continuing to prove to me why he’s one of my favourite filmmakers working today. His last two films (Happy New Year, Colin Burstead and Rebecca) felt like a change for his style and what type of films he was making, and while I did love Happy New Year, Rebecca felt like a misstep. While not the only thing that he’s known for, but when I think of Wheatley’s films, I think of his use of violence. He states and shows it off with minimal flourishes, he showcases it so nonchalantly that it feels more extreme. And I’m glad to announce that In The Earth feels like a return to form.

In the introduction with the film, Wheatley told us that on the very first day of the lockdown in the UK, he came up with the idea of the film, and filmed it in the summer. He mentioned that it’s not a film that is about COVID, but it’s hard to ignore it. He goes on to say that films should talk and tackle the politics of the day. And as a horror film, even more reasons to talk about them. Watching the film, I felt COVID engrained in the DNA of the film, and it works as a great jumping-off point to the rest of the film.

In The Earth starts off as a simple on-the-verge post-apocalyptic film, Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) who used to communicate with Dr. Wendle (Hayley Squires) through letters. When Wendle stopped writing back, Martin decided to find out why. Martin and Alma (Ellora Torchia) then have to walk two days to get ATU327A, the test site that Dr. Wendle has been working from. On their first night, they are attacked at night which leaves them without their shoes. This brings them to the good samaritan Zach (Reece Shearsmith), and then things get strange and incredible.

Nick Gillespie has been working with Wheatley for the past ten years since he was working first assistant camera and still photographer on Kill List. it’s clear that they have a shorthand with one another as the camerawork is exquisite and wonderfully showcases Wheatley’s style. Speaking of repeating coworkers, Clint Mansell’s score is magnificent. I will be waiting for the eventual Mondo release of the score so I can listen to the synths on repeat. During the Q&A, Wheatley states that part of the score was composed by using plants by talking to them as a device was set up. He goes on to state that he wanted to utilize sounds and lights (which goes into the many wonderful strobe lights sequences) as a comparison to cinema.

Spoilers for WandaVision I guess, but in the fourth episode, they talk about frequencies and how the sitcom has been hidden in the frequency, and oddly enough, In The Earth also talks about trying to use frequency to send messages, of art to the world. It’s clear that Ben Wheatley is talking about how we’re not listening to the world, or what it’s telling us. Soon after lockdowns began, they were tons of reports of pollution reaching low records for the first time in years. The world needed a breather as it’s doomed from everything we’re not doing. But, we find ourselves stuck in 5-day work weeks,40 hours a week, on top of friends, family, and life. We’re so concerned about keeping busy, some of us lose our sanity in the process. I’ve taken the past year to find time to just sit down, and breathe while I can.

Once things get going in this film, there is tension and constantly anticipating what comes next that it’s hard to find times to breathe. Between the beautiful images, the frenetic editing and the strobe lights blinding you, all while Clint Mansell and his plants try to soothe you, and show you art. Ben Wheatley and his team found my frequency because I was on the same wavelength and loved every moment of this.