I’m still not sure what I saw. I’m not even sure how I learned about it (it was likely either Theofantastique or Horror Homeroom), but In the Earth is a very strange film. I can’t say it’ll be on my shelf of favorites—there’s a little too much Wolf Creek here for that—but I can say it’s something I’ll be thinking about for some time. Body horror isn’t my favorite, but I do like to remind myself periodically of the dangers of going into the woods. Released just last year, In the Earth is a pandemic-response film that critics say is funny (I kind of missed that aspect, I’ll admit) about a scientist and a ranger who are journeying into a particularly fecund woodland outside Bristol for research. Martin, the lead, has an ulterior motive in that the researcher already in the woods is a former girlfriend.
Martin heads out with Alma, the ranger, and they fall into a trap set by Zach, and I suppose the humor comes in Zach’s constant observations that Martin’s wounds have gotten worse and require backwoods surgery. The couple escape Zach (who’s clearly deranged) after he drugs them and poses them in odd clothes to propitiate the spirit of the woods. They find their way to Olivia (the researcher/former girlfriend) and her research station only to learn Zach is her ex-husband. And here things get weirder. To communicate with the earth, Olivia first used an old ritual book that includes the Malleus Maleficarum and additional material. This ancient book tells how to decipher the language of the earth through the use of light and sound with the aid of a runic standing stone that’s on no map.
Religion plays a major part in the horror here. Olivia and Zach both want to sacrifice Martin at the runic stone. Anyone who can watch this without seeing echoes of Abraham and Isaac probably has fewer religious nightmares than I do. Martin, they all say, is so innocent and straightforward. Alma keeps on trying to get Martin out of the woods but either Zach or Olivia, or the forest itself via a toxic cloud of mushroom spores, prevents them. There are so many flashing strobes and intercut images from the spores and oddly disturbing sounds to make out what really happens at the end of the film, but one thing is clear. Zach and Olivia have taken a religious text too literally and doing so leads them to sacrifice the innocent. Almost biblical, no?