A lot of today’s generation’s experiments look like wacky silliness from my childhood. Consider, for example, the new movie “In the Earth.” It reminds me of psychedelia from 1968. And of “The Blair Witch Project.”
Its British writer and director (who claims he wrote and directed “In the Earth” in 15 days last August) seems to have believed that he made a new “Heart of Darkness.” But surely he can’t be serious about what he’s done here.
There’s a line of dialogue late in this movie — “What have you done?” — that got the only laugh of the evening. Oh, the references to the ringworm epidemic are pretty funny.
Please forgive me if I don’t get all the details of the story right here. The film’s sound seemed to come from cardboard boxes. All the actors are British, and some of them are wearing surgical masks during some scenes, or they are off camera when we want to be reading their lips. I had trouble taking in all the dialogue.
But I followed the narrative pretty well. “In the Earth” is set during the recent flu outbreak. A man named Martin (Joel Fry) walks up to the oddly domestic headquarters of a nature preserve that has been closed to the public. He is tested and found free of sickness. He just got over ringworm. Snicker.
He has come to visit a woman scientist who is conducting some sort of experiment in the woods. Now, these are not woods like we have. All the brush has been cleared away, the trees have been spaced, and there is grass growing everywhere. Domesticated woods, they look to me. But there don’t seem to be any trails. The woods spook the scientists. They think people out there sometimes go wonky. Maybe because of that mist that shoots up in geysers from mushroom patches.
Alma, a local, agrees to take Martin to the scientist’s camp, two day’s march away. They hit the non-trail after Martin has looked at a historic framed wood-cut print about a local wood’s spook.
Out in the woods they find a deserted tent, they are beaten to unconsciousness as they sleep, and they awaken to find their shoes are gone. Martin’s left foot gets a nasty cut. Then, as they stumble along, they meet a man who is illegally camping out there.
Never has a man looked less like a Zac. He looks a little like Carlos Santana. The guitarist, not the ball player. Later he will actually show up with a guitar in hand.
“Zac” sews up Martin’s wound. But he also drugs the wanderers and scars them and, after dressing them to look like figures in the woodcut back at hq, he photographs them. Then he announces that Martin needs to have a couple of toes trimmed away, supposedly because of the cut. “Zac” does the amputation with a hand ax.
This business with the foot wound has the gut wrenching effect of surprising quick cuts in recent horror films. They work, but they aren’t really what you’d call scary.
Alma and Martin manage to escape “Zac.”
They find their way to a monolith with a hole in it. It is surrounded by strobe lights and loudspeakers that soon enough broadcast what sounds like somebody experimenting with a Moog synthesizer. In about 1969.
This is where Zac’s ex-wife is working. She is the scientist Martin has come to see. She rescues Martin and Alma, cauterizes the amputation site (another instance of stomach shock, not horror), and does some explaining. But then she seems to drug M and A. So who can they trust?
The closing passage of the film is another multimedia business, part electronic music and part light show slides. The whole, we have been told, is supposed to be a statement about how we need to get back to nature. Or to the spirit of nature. Which is apparently like a Pink Floyd performance promoting “Pipers at the Gates of Dawn.”
Only thing is, “See Emily Play” is simple to understand compared to “In the Earth.” And the sound’s better.