Before departing to the theatre to watch In The Earth, I had to stop home and change clothes. I grabbed the first comfortable shirt I found; a picture of Mount Rushmore on the front and one of the carved faces telling the others ‘dude, we are so stoned’. Get it? A pun of fine proportions and applicable to this review because I feel like the filmmakers were high when they made this movie. That in itself isn’t the problem but whether under the influence of something or not, a film can either end up fantastic or frustrating. This one is the latter for me if we’re looking at the film as a whole. Its strength comes from its assorted parts.
Martin (Joel Fry) arrives at a research station in the midst of quarantine. This is his first stop as he is being sent deep into the woods to reach a scientist that has stopped responding. He is to join her and bring equipment to continue her study of the fabled forest. Joining him in his journey to reach her is Alma (Ellora Torchia), a more in shape and capable companion. The pair start off and it isn’t long before they encounter a violent homeless man, Zach (Reece Shearsmith), strange noises, and in reaching the scientist Olivia (Hayley Squires), learn that the forest is operating like a brain with connections between its trees like Avatar. The research comes first as some characters embrace science and others use religion and ritual to try and appease the forest and learn what it wants, what it’s like.
This is a good idea in theory. Exploring how mankind reacts to the profound and unknown is one of the best jumping off points for exploring humanity. However, the music embraces the science and observatory melody without ever giving much of a sense of dread, though by the lighting and plot, it appears we are supposed to be in a horror movie. Martin and Alma go from one struggle to the next dumbfounded and perplexed. I was myself and not just because a good section involves a series of loud whirring noises and camera flashes that are likely to give viewers a headache. (The film does open with a warning about how these may trigger people with certain illnesses).
he movie pauses to put our characters through hell at the hands of the homeless man. After escaping, they rightfully want to keep their distance and yet, when the plot demands they return to the woods where he is, neither is on guard, neither seems to remember they just had spent days of torture. That’s not simply adhering to horror movie rules, it’s stretching it too far for me. The idea of the forest being alive has its moments such as when a series of plants seem to exhale, releasing clouds of colored mist and pollen into the air, but the imagination behind the film appears scattered, with many beautiful ideas meshing into something that isn’t compelling; at least to me.
So what are we left with? A dose of black humor, some rather average performances, though I do believe this is not on the cast, and just enough good ideas to frustrate me. When we see the homeless man do horrible things to appease the forest, it is disturbing enough, but not to the point apparently that our lead characters would have fists raised when potentially facing him again. The film lost me there and just kept going. I leave other parts of the climax vague for the potential viewer, but the answers didn’t move me. That this was filmed during quarantine and touches on the struggles of the pandemic is admirable. But sadly, admirability does not equal perfection.
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