IN THE WOODS (2021)

Posted: August 5, 2021 in Uncategorized

In the Earth, Ben Wheatley’s latest foray into folk horror is a film that is brim-full of ideas, thematically and visually. But I remain unconvininced that it does, in the end, succeed in its project.

There are plenty of good things here. The performances are excellent across the board, in what is essentially a four-hander. Scientist Joel Fry and park ranger Ellora Torchia head off into the woods to find head researcher Hayley Squires, and soon run afoul of mad hermit Reece Shearsmith. A gruelling captivity scene gives way to apparent sanctuary with Squires, but she turns out to be quite mad in her own way too (as Squires’ stare becomes more and more alarming, she appears to be channelling Barbara Steele).

This all has to do with some sort of consciousness in the woods, and the attempts to communicate with it inevitably involve propitiation. They also involve a lot of eletronica and strobing lights, as deployed by Squires through lights and loudspeakers, and by Wheatley with additional digital psychedelia, which is pretty much in the direct lineage of the psychedelia deployed by low-budget films from the late-60s on who wanted to ape 2001: A Space Odyssey’s climax. And this, for me, is where the film has its biggest stumble. The endless strobing induces migraines, not wonder (and if you’re at all photosensitive, I’d avoid this movie). The sense of mystery and awe that Wheatley seems to be aiming for would, I think, be conjured better through suggestion and performances (his leads are all up to the task) rather than the digital noodling that made me irritated with the filmmaking rather than curious about the theme.

As well, the pandemic context of the film is an interesting set-up, but then doesn’t really go anywhere.

All the same, I’m glad I saw it. If it does fail in the end, it fails in an interesting way.

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