Our art reflects our time, and while a few quickly shot films like Love in the Time of COVID have attempted to capture the feelings of the past 14 months, Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth revels in the bad vibes of isolation.
While it is not always explicitly about COVID, much of In the Earth’s spectacular horror exploits the sensory deprivation of quarantine as an opportunity to overwhelm those deadened senses.
In the Earth will screen at 5 and 8 p.m. Friday and Wednesday at Tower Theatre, 425 NW 23rd Street.
Martin Lowery (Joe Fry) is a scientific researcher who volunteers for a routine equipment check for his former boss Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires), who is deep inside an English forest. He arrives at the site wearing a mask and telling stories about how hard the latest wave of the virus hit Bristol. Like so many people, Martin is socially unsteady after months alone in his flat, and he was, for lack of a better description, drawn to the forest.
Alma (Ellora Torchia) serves as Lowery’s guide on what will be an overnight trek to Dr. Wendle’s research station, but as they break camp the next morning, they discover some of their most important equipment is missing, and what follows is a deeply lysergic head trip characterized by human gore, airborne spores, lightning-fast editing and music created by the forest itself.
If some of this sounds like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, it is probably intentional, but unlike that novella’s most famous adaptation, Apocalypse Now, the scourge of colonialism is not a key textual element.
Instead, Wheatley, who wrote In the Earth in 15 days while in quarantine, is focused on the savagery of sensation. This is a decent time to warn people living with epilepsy that In the Earth could prove difficult to endure due to strobing effects.
When the COVID-19 epidemic reached critical mass, many people felt like the world was revolting against humanity, and In the Earth is locked into that feeling. Whether it is airborne psychedelic spores or the fear that contact with others could be deadly, Wheatley is pushing a lot of buttons here.
The other key figure pushing buttons is Clint Mansell, director Darren Aronofsky’s go-to film composer and the former leader of the sample-heavy 1980s “grebo” band, Pop Will Eat Itself.
Mansell creates a minimalist synthwave score for In the Earth that helps ramp up fear and tension, but the real horror begins when Mansell’s orchestrations start “speaking” for the trees like an incoherent Lorax. Mansell’s music will soothe at first, but then will give theater sound systems a strenuous workout.
But even with Mansell and a crew of whacked-out supporting characters in the mix, Wheatley is riding herd over the proceedings, and In the Earth is definitely in his bailiwick.
In his adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, Wheatley commented on the dystopian nature of life in large, insular apartment buildings. The film, released in 2015, presaged the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, which makes High-Rise seem eerily prescient in retrospective viewings.
Similarly, In the Earth is of our times and about our times.
As we peek out of our cocoons after a year and a half in isolation, the unprotected outside world can be scary beyond measure. And Wheatley’s latest piece of nervy horror is not here for comfort.
While theaters in New York are preparing to reopen, Oklahoma City Philharmonic helps tune up with Blockbuster Broadway, an all-killer, no-filler performance of songs from Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, Annie, Jersey Boys, The Sound of Music, Chicago, CATS, The Lion King, A Chorus Line, and other Broadway classics. OKC Phil takes the stage 8 p.m.
Friday and Saturday at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave. Visit okcphil.org.
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Last Updated April 29, 2021, 6:14 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor