It seems that Inside No. 9 is paying dividends for British comedians. That would somewhat explain the inclusion of Reece Shearsmith within In the Earth, the latest feature from director Ben Wheatley. Time has passed since their work together on A Field in England, and while Inside No. 9 has probably taken precedence over the previous Wheatley and Shearsmith collaborations, familiarity with one another should hopefully help conduct those notes of horror they seek out here. While the Rebecca remake director has not quite captured the post-Free Fire high, there is still time for such a change. His latest feature has the added bonus of telling a story about a deadly virus, while a deadly virus spreads across the world. Any publicity is good publicity, but that implies In the Earth is worth viewing. A humdrum walk through the forest as these characters search for nothing in particular, of course, things will turn Wolf Creek almost immediately…
While it may be nice to see the rise of Joel Fry is an inevitability for Hollywood, how much use he will be in these leading roles is still up in the air. He doesn’t cement himself as leading man material here, but it may be because he is outshined by Shearsmith and Ellora Torchia. He is playing third fiddle to the established comedy veteran and the surprise up-and-comer. Still, he displays some good pockets of drama, which is necessary considering most audiences will know him as the bumbling boy from Trollied. He manages to redefine himself here, with good pockets of tension spread far too thin. So thin, in fact, that they make little impact.
Wheatley’s direction is of tremendous issue, though. He returns to his early years as a horror director but leaves no articulate or telling response to suggest that he has improved. For all us newcomers to his craft know, this could have been his first outing. His style would suggest so. As he zooms his camera onto nothing in particular, giving us a break from the outbreaks of violence and tension, it all starts to feel a bit too surreal. Surely that is the point to folklore and the horrors that wait for us, lingering in the forest, but that would suggest what is out there waiting for us is worth being terrified of. In the Earth has too much it wishes to say and do, and the end result is no consistency or ability to streamline its thoughts and articulate a common goal. It feels a tad too close to Midsommar, with white robes and lingering shots that mean nothing at all. Torchia features in both projects too. Surely, that is happenstance.
Those obvious notes of peace and serenity within the calming forest are sure to be destroyed and distraught. Any notion of calmness will be cast aside to make way for horror, which is mired by your usual setlist of modern horror drawbacks. Folk tale cannon fodder for the post-lockdown generation. Wheatley at least taps into the real fear we have of the unknown. Hopeless, dire situations are challenging and terrifying, and there is enough within In the Earth to suggest at least the aroma of fear, but his direction leaves much to be desired, and even less to be frightened of. We can be scared of ideas, ruminating thoughts and terrifying futures that lie ahead, but how scared can we be when the script is all folk legend?