Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth, is the second film made during the pandemic that I’ve seen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The first movie, How it Ends, felt like a student film that was only made because the cast and crew were bored. Wheatley’s film is a movie that is filmed, almost exclusively, in nature, deep in the woods, and he seems set to destroy our appetite to wander out of our houses right now.

The British filmmaker retreats to the woods for this unsettling blend of modern anxieties that blend with an occult supernatural forest. The story starts as Martin (Joel Fry) reaches a settlement in the middle of the woods. There is a vague pandemic in this world that isn’t unlike what we are living through, but it isn’t a direct corollary.

Martin needs to travel to meet his former boss deep in the woods as she studies the connective tissue of fungi with the forest’s ecosystem. We are almost immediately back in nature with Martin being accompanied by Alma (Ellora Torchia). They are both deep enough into the global crisis that they have resigned in some way, Martin in his seemingly demure and lazy approach to the world and Alma’s view that anything they see or hear possesses some threat.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The two eventually meet Zach (Reece Shearsmith), a man living on, and from the land. He quickly drugs and begins to offer them as sacrifices to the spirit of the forest. From here Wheatley bounces between survival horror before settling on a hypnotic and nightmarish final third that really isn’t that terrifying from a story level but is told with such a clear directorial sense that it crawls deep under your skin. The sensorial experience of the final act of the film descends into a hallucinatory orgy of sight and sound, buoyed by Clint Mansell’s typically excellent work as composer.

As we all sit on our couches dreaming of the outside world, Wheatley feels the need to remind us that the outside world isn’t all that intriguing. His vision of a world built around isolation and claustrophobia within wide open spaces, is jarring in the simplicity of the setup, but he oozes production value from his primary location expertly. Yes, it was shot quickly, but this doesn’t feel cobbled together in the slightest. The Kurtzianeque descent into the dark heart of man and even darker heart of nature, is a perfect reflection of our moment. The only real safe places right now are our homes, and Wheatley might just be saying, “stay the fuck home, ain’t nothing out here to see.”

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