From Pan to Pan: "In the Earth"

Director Ben Wheatley took some acid, went into the forest, and came back giddy.

Movies Du Monde is paywall-free, but is easier to produce with support from moviegoers all over. If you like what you read here, be sure to share and sign up. If you really like this, please do subscribe or leave a tip - you’ll get access to comments and discussions. All feedback is welcome, so don’t hesitate to reach out!


In the Earth

It shouldn’t always be up to a Lars Von Trier or a Werner Herzog to express just how actively and aggressively negative nature can be to humanity - when it’s not being indifferent, I mean. What lurks in the heart of men can easily be found in isolation, deep in the greenest of shrubbery and the vastness of land. Director Ben Wheatley’s approach to such territory appears to be to take psychedelics and hope for the best or, at least, a learning experience - for both characters and audiences alike. He’s not doing anything by way of Gaspar Noe, tripping us all into the visual horror of “enhanced” living, but rather exalting in the beautiful terror of the natural Earth.

If Von Trier is eerily at ease, if Herzog is stoic, and if Noe is impatient when it comes to this understanding, Wheatley is just happy to see it all go down.

Not in flames, mind you, but for it all to happen. To witness or, in the case of In the Earth, to create.

While it was made in near secret during our ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, limited to four main actors and one main setting - the woods - likely as a resourceful tactic for ventilation and an ironic one in b-movie vibes (shooting in nature has been a bane and a boon for no-budget schlock filmmakers), the film is loud about everything we’ve all been dealing with and observing since 2020. It’s set at a time of a similar viral strain, where coming close to out-of-the-way villages and buildings brings upon everyone with sanitary equipment, health surveys, and blood tests. Immediately, with no question, some annoyance, and absolute compliance, they allow themselves to be sprayed down with some chemical agent. These moments are funny if only out of real frustration of this being familiar, cathartic out of virtue of the more extreme measures taken. One can only hope that the sprays are not derived from many decades past (DDT is safe, kids!).

A scientist and a park ranger go on a hike into the woods, to drop off some supplies at a research station. The running theme here is isolation, as this first couple of people have experienced personal trauma with having to be left on their own for intervals of time, only to be thrust back into limited conversation and relationship with others of the same pain, on a trip of further isolation. It’s as if the planet is laughing at us, as we go from frying pan to frying pan, struggling to cook or be cooked. Struggling for a finish. For an end. Is In the Earth the stove? Sure.

It’s uncertain if the film is mythologizing our collective experience with disease and death here, and if so what that ultimately means for the tale and for the movie from a moral standpoint, but it’s clear that it’s a jumping-off point for pure survival and occasional torture of the senses. When things go bad to worse, from light and sound overload to amputation, from pseudo-spirituality to pseudo-science, we’re shocked to the level of cringe and to the response of straight-jacket laughter. In the Earth works as a morbid comedy of harmful errors, while also diving into the business of shared fear for the uncharted, for the unexpected, for the lived-with, and for the lived-in. On the surface, it’s pandemic. Under the dirt, it’s the nuts and bolts of that which makes us all wake up in a fright and walk around in an anxious daze.

One could confuse In the Earth as exploitation, but this would be a jagged interpretation and a major deviation. It and its filmmaker may revel in the darkness of our environment (of our making or of what we live within), but the film never suggests that it’s a devious porn. Rather, I’d compare it more closely to a creature feature than anything, if a stylish and more genuinely scary one. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad (and/or both at the same time), and more often it’s thrilling by way of horror. An exquisite b-movie, it is.

What is the world doing to us? What have we done to it? Are we doomed? Who's to blame? When will it end?

Make it end by whatever means!

Only Peter Graves can save us, but he’s no longer around.

When does the UFO crash?

In the Earth is a playset, and the kid at the helm is a step ahead of his parents and doctors. Acting out? Maybe, but it’s not from anger or from a place of disobedience. It’s from his imagination, and he’s seen more CNN than Sesame Street as of late.


Movies Du Monde is paywall-free, but is easier to produce with support from moviegoers all over. If you like what you read here, be sure to share and sign up. If you really like this, please do subscribe or leave a tip - you’ll get access to comments and discussions. All feedback is welcome, so don’t hesitate to reach out!