Well, it’s not quite morning, and I’m still playing catch-up after a weekend of indolence and ice cream, but but I’m eking out this Monday “Morning” Movie Review for your daily delectation.
I often review films that I like, or about which I can say something positive. This week’s film, In the Earth (2021), is one that I cannot recommend to most viewers, but one I nevertheless enjoyed.
This one is a Hulu find, and I watched it Saturday while my girlfriend was at the dentist. She came back and watched the rest of it with me, and asked, “What was the point of all that?” According to the Rotten Tomatoes audience score, most viewers had the same reaction. I’ll confess I was wondering the same thing at points, though overall I enjoyed the film.
The best part of the movie is the first half, which both creates an interesting world and throws its characters into a bloody dilemma. The world of In the Earth is one in which a deadly viral pandemic has wreaked havoc on the world (sound familiar?), and people are struggling to survive as best they can, often in unusual locations.
The film opens with Martin, a scientist, arriving at a government outpost on the edge of a large forest. He accompanies Alma on a two-day hike to find Dr. Olivia Wendle, Martin’s ex, who is doing research deep in the woods on the forest’s “mycorrhizal mat,” which she believes serves as a central nervous system for all of the flora in the forest. Seemingly connected to this idea of the sentient forest is Parnag Fegg, a creature or entity that is alleged to roam the forest, making prey of unsuspecting travelers.
Alma is tough and matter-of-fact, while Martin is uncertain, equivocating, and out-of-shape. The situation turns from a difficult hike into a deadly one: Alma and Martin are attacked in their sleep on the second night, finding their shoes stolen in the raid. They limp on without proper footwear, resulting in Martin stepping on a sharp stick, putting a nasty gash into his foot.
As they limp along, they come upon Zach, a hirsute individual living illegally in the woods. He takes the couple in and feeds them broth made from local plants, and gives them a tea derived from a plant like elderberries. Zach’s generosity, however, is a trap, and Alma and Martin find themselves held captive. Zach’s goal: to use Alma and Martin in his ritualistic art to appease and please the forest/Parnag Fegg—and, ultimately, to sacrifice them.
This portion of the film is the best: In the Earth has drawn viewers into a mysterious woodland world, and then put the protagonists into the hands of a bloodthirsty pagan. The deranged things Zach does to the pair—specifically Martin—are terrifying and gruesome.
Without giving too much away, the pair manage to escape, stumbling upon flashing strobe lights and speakers in the woods. These are the outskirts of Olivia’s camp. Olivia is obsessed with contacting the “mind” of the forest, but whereas Zach has chosen artistry and sacrifice, Olivia has opted for more scientific means.
The film builds to a psychedelic crescendo, with Olivia’s scientific approach delving into the very same black magic that Zach employed, the two seemingly working together.
This point in the flick is when it turns weird, a jumble of hallucinogenic images amid sequences of Alma and Martin fighting back against Zach and Olivia.
Honestly, I was unclear on what the ending of the film was (Wikipedia clears it up a bit). All I knew was that the film descended into trippy madness as the party partakes in some ancient, blasphemous ritual. In that regard, the crazy strobe effects and hallucinations worked well to give a sense for what the foursome experienced in the spore-filled forest, but it also made for a confusing, overly long ending.
The first half of the flick is essentially a mysterious adventure into the woods culminating in a hostage situation, all of which I found entertaining and compelling—really, quite gripping. The second half of the film has its merits, but the ending felt far too scattered.
Most will not like In the Woods, but it does some things very well. It creates a creepy and foreboding atmosphere, and a sense that no one can truly be trusted. For that, it is worth a watch for fans of this kind of survival horror.