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In the Earth follows scientist Martin and park scout Alma as they journey into the woods to rendezvous with a fellow researcher.Elevation Pictures

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  • In the Earth
  • Written and directed by Ben Wheatley
  • Starring Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia and Hayley Squires
  • Classification R; 100 minutes

What drugs is Ben Wheatley on, and how can I ensure that I never, ever accidentally ingest any myself? This was my primary concern while watching the British filmmaker’s In the Earth, a phantasmagoric experiment in folk-horror and pandemic-era production restrictions that is as technically impressive as it is nauseatingly psychedelic.

On the one hand: Good on Wheatley for finding a novel way to atone for the sins of his pointless Rebecca remake. As if anticipating the critical sting that the Netflix production would produce once released late last fall, Wheatley burrowed deep back into his comfortable murder-and-mayhem niche this past August, just between Britain’s first and second COVID-19 waves. A mere 15 days later, he emerged with a dirty little film aimed at reminding admirers that he is still the same madman who made such easy-bake cult-nip as Kill List, A Field in England, High-Rise and Sightseers.

Taking place in the midst of a viral outbreak (though the word “COVID-19” is not uttered once, thank god), In the Earth follows jumpy scientist Martin (Joel Fry) and park scout Alma (Ellora Torchia) as they journey into the woods to rendezvous with a fellow researcher. What follows is a gruesome adventure of in-your-face freak-outs, culminating in a strobe-lit “nature is healing” climax that could only possibly make sense if you are high outta your mind.

While I hope to never, ever watch In the Earth again, I must admit to admiring parts of it, too. Like much of Wheatley’s pre-Rebecca work, there is an amusingly sick humour that is (pardon) infectious. Martin’s constant foot problems, for instance – you don’t actually want to know the details – are laced with the dark comedy of a rejected Monty Python skit. Ditto the casting of Torchia, who between this and 2019′s Midsommar has cemented her reputation as contemporary folk-horror’s go-to scream queen.

When Ben Wheatley is having a laugh, he can make for a perversely pleasant genre tour-guide. When he starts to get high off his own supply, though, it’s best to hike back to civilization.

In the Earth opens April 16 in select Canadian theatres, dependent on local health restrictions; it will be available on-demand later in the spring

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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