“Nature is a force of evil” proclaims the stark, brooding poster for writer/director Ben Wheatley’s new feature In The Earth, a heady, kaleidoscopic horror film that takes the events of the last year – to some degree – and looks at it from a different angle.
The last twelve months have been tough for the arts, with theatres still closed even today and cinemas only just reopening with delayed films such as A Quiet Place Part II, Cruella, and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, three surprisingly dark films to restart it all with.
Oh, and Peter Rabbit 2. How could we forget?
Now one of the UK’s most revered filmmakers is back with perhaps his best film yet.
In The Earth reflects on events from the past year or so, presenting a thrilling, scary look at the environment in and around the pandemic – whilst still being a story that is removed from being preciously about it – also bringing Wheatley’s signature style to the screen in devastating fashion.
Watch our full interview with Wheatley here:
Making the film was a challenge unto itself given the COVID-19 restrictions – it was made last August in relative secrecy and for the filmmaker, simply getting the movie across the line amongst all the chaos and “new normal” working conditions was a triumph all on its own:
“Well, it’s always amazing to make a movie and you can never underestimate that,” Wheatley says. “It’s always such a struggle – the amount of tectonic plates that need to move, even on a modest budget, to get you there is incredible. I’m always excited and grateful to be on set whenever I am.”
“Just to be outside was bizarre and a massive bonus, because we had all had five months indoors by that point so it was all still novel for everyone.”
Such were the unique demands and pressures of filming during the pandemic when the industry was still educating itself on how to manage with bubbles and the right on-set precautions – something that bigger productions like Mission: Impossible 7 have also faced.
Wheatley said, however, that despite much being made of the lightning-fast 15-day shoot, he followed a “classic” schedule many horror films have always utilised:
“We started the film actually by finding an old schedule for Halloween, the original John Carpenter version, and he had a similar shooting period to us and a similar budget (adjusted over time)” he told us.
“I think that B-movie stuff and horror movies were often made in this way, and this amount of time, it’s only in the last ten years or so that the horror film has been elevated up to shooting over four months and costing hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“So, this is a grassroots version of what it should be. It’s not lightning quick per se, but compared to a Hollywood movie it’s much faster, that’s for sure.”
As with many other filmmakers and creatives, Wheatley is always writing and forming his visions, even during lockdown.
He talked about the duty to reflect the times as they move and change, in this case creating a story of the world searching desperately for a cure to a devastating virus, which leads a scientist (Joel Fry) and a park scout (Ellora Torchia) to venture deep into the woods, only for their quest to take some dark turns as the forest comes to life around them.
“Well, I’m always writing,” he continues, “I think that filmmakers and story-makers have a duty to reflect on the time that they’re in so it was different for me to write about the experience of being in a pandemic.”
“Happy New Year, Colin Burstead was a similar thing about Brexit, and Kill List had been a similar thing about the Middle East so it would make sense to make a movie that incorporated in the things that were going on but not necessarily in a way that was reflecting it straight back into people’s faces because none of us need to be told what happened, we all lived in it.”
The last year has hit the industry – and the whole world – in numerous difficult ways and for many filmmakers and actors, the year has postponed many movies, caused delays in finishing films, and, in some examples, seen people spend more time at home given the restrictions.
For Wheatley though, it provided him with time to work on this film and the other projects he is working on – The Meg 2 is perhaps his most high-profile film after In The Earth, as well as indie projects such as (reportedly) Freak Shift.
“It was good to get out” he joked. “You learn to take the pleasure where you can. I don’t mind spending a year storyboarding on a project, you learn a lot from just doing that or prepping something. A year of writing is great as well.”
“I try not to go a couple of years without filming because it becomes harder each time you come back. If you spend too long away, you have to find your feet again, so I like to be working all the time if I can.”
In The Earth is in cinemas 18th June, with previews 17th June.