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In The Earth (15, 107 minutes)
Written and directed by Billericay-born Ben Wheatley over just 15 days in between two blockbuster sequels, Tomb Raider 2 and The Meg 2, In The Earth is a magic mushroom trip for the pandemic generation.
Filmed on a budget which looks like it left change from a tenner, this superior home-made horror couples darkly comic dialogue (mostly courtesy of Joel Fry and Reece Shearsmith, both of whom are no strangers to comedic timing) with paganism, torn flesh, splintered bone and a couple of phalanges, all in the rustic setting of a west country woodland.
With the world struggling to find a cure for, or at least a way to survive, a global pandemic (a different one), scientist Martin Lowery (Fry) and park ranger, Alma (Ellora Torchia) take on the two-day trek through a strangely abundant forest near Bristol to reach his mentor Olivia (Hayley Squires, last seen as a porn star in the brilliant Channel 4 miniseries Adult Material) supposedly so they can continue their research into the synergy between fungi and tree roots that controls the entire nature reserve’s eco-system and holds the key, they believe, to growing crops quickly and safely.
As if a virus isn’t bad enough (and it barely serves any purpose here other than giving these characters a reason to be in the woods at all) there’s the small matter of an ancient standing stone and mysterious forest dweller Zach (Shearsmith), who is able to carry out the most extreme acts with the calm matter-of-factness afforded to only the nuttiest of nutcases in the belief that he is appeasing the spirit of the ground they stand on.
A mushroom cloud (literally) of late 1960s-style psychedelia acts as a smokescreen to the tale beginning to run out of steam, but for the most part, In The Earth proves that in the right hands and with the right cast a micro-budget can still produce decent results.