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Can't See the Forest

In-the-earth-movie-review-reece-shearsmith
Neon

MOVIE REVIEW
In the Earth (2021)

“In the Earth” can be best summarized as the pandemic version of “Annihilation.” Of course there’s more to it, but not much. And by more to it, we mean that the film isn’t entirely committed to one antagonist – it’s the deadly virus, strange things in the woods, a slasher and occult horror all rolled into one. But quantity often isn’t quality.

Though touted as filmed during the pandemic, Covid-19 plays a much less prominent role here than it does in “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.” When Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) first arrives at a makeshift checkpoint, protocols on masks, P.P.E., hand sanitizer, social distancing and quarantine are fastidiously observed. Once he sets off with Alma (Ellora Torchia) as guide to locate the incommunicado Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires), all bets – and masks – are off. After an overnight attack in their tents, Dr. Lowery and Alma press on without shoes but with a heightened sense of danger.

At about the half-hour mark in the film’s running time, they encounter Zach (Reece Shearsmith), who has been living off the grid in the woods. Of course, Zach isn’t as friendly as he initially seems. This is where writer-director Ben Wheatley injects “The Silence of the Lambs” and “The Blair Witch Project” into his existing “Annihilation” narrative, though his being extra here reads more like a desperate attempt to distract from the movie’s low budget than a stroke of genius.

It’s one prominent example of the recurring theme of amputation and dismemberment that marked the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. But there’s little here that truly lives up to Mr. Wheatley’s cultish reputation, though some of the imagery is impressively artful and reminiscent of the title sequence in “Seven.” With supernatural films like “Blair Witch” and “Ringu” that succeed at building myth and internal logic, less is often more. The sensory assault aside, Mr. Wheatley simply tries too hard to explain away a nonsensical pastiche.

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