At the edge of the forest stands Gantalow Lodge, all wood, antlers and hazard tape, last outpost beyond which entry is prohibited to the public during the epidemic whose third wave has arrived with devastating consequences; a researcher whose work on increasing the efficiency of crop production requires the particular conditions found in the forest, Doctor Martin Lowery is decontaminated as he arrives at the lodge.
Guided by Alma, they set out on foot for the camp of Doctor Olivia Wendle, not seen for months and whose erratic communications with the outside world have ceased; positioned at the centre of the mycorrhizal mat whose network runs in the earth underneath the forest and supports the ecosystem, it is two days on foot through shadows and mist under the canopy of trees, the sense of palpable unease given a name by the locals, the mythical Parnag Fegg.
Attacked during the night and their camp turned over, their shoes stolen and forced to proceed barefoot, Martin and Alma encounter eccentric loner Zach who lives in a palace of canvas and polythene sheets and offers shelter and food; attempting to contact the woodland spirit through ritual rather than comprehend it through the methods of science, he requires offerings and sacrifice to communicate with what lies in the earth.
Written and directed by Ben Wheatley, In the Earth takes the hallucinogenic trip of A Field in England and marries it to the violence and deception of Kill List while delving into the archives of Nigel Kneale, the supernatural power tied to a place of ancient worship marked by standing stones of The Quatermass Conclusion and Doctor Wendle’s attempts to communicate through sound echoing The Stone Tape.
Recreating the Radiophonic Workshopal fresco to talk to the trees, In Fabric‘s Hayley Squires is Olivia, every bit as driven and eccentric as the more obviously deluded and dangerous Zach (High-Rise‘s Reece Shearsmith), while Requiem‘s Joel Fry is frustrating as Martin, overly trusting and pliant, a fool who comes of his own free will where a healthy air of scepticism would contribute more to self-preservation, leaving Ellora Torchia’s Alma as the sole voice unhindered by unsupported belief or persuasion.
A fertile mixture of organics and volatiles, In the Earth is somewhat less than the bountiful harvest it could have been, the ideas never quite developed sufficiently to weave together tightly and gore used to expedite scenes when atmosphere would have been more unsettling, folk horror brought to the mainstream but not yet ripe, the menace rising with the spores but not enough to penetrate beneath the skin.