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‘In the Earth’ Offers Psychedelic Folk Horror [Sundance Review]

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in the Earth

It isn’t easy finding the point where folk horror and psychedelic horror collide, but writer/director Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth, which debuted last night at the Sundance Film Festival, does it beautifully.

Conceived, written, and filmed during the pandemic–as so many films in 2020 were–In the Earth does not ignore Covid-19, nor does it make it central to the plot. Instead, the pandemic sits on the periphery as something the characters are entirely aware of despite so many other things going on. What’s more, while many of the films created during the pandemic have come with a closed, almost claustrophobic feel, Wheatley impresses by taking us all outside…then making us regret it.

As the film opens, Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) arrives at a research waypoint. His destination is deep in the Arboreal Forest, and soon he and park guide Alma (Ellora Torchia) head into the woods to meet with Lowery’s colleague (Hayley Squires). After they’re attacked in the night, however, they find themselves at the mercy of Zach (Reece Shearsmith), a man living off-grid in the woods whose reasons are deadly.

Wheatley is no stranger to unusual genre work. His previous credits include producing The Greasy Strangler as well as directing Kill List. He also directed Netflix’s new adaptation of Rebecca starring Armie Hammer and Lily James. Still, it felt like he pulled out all the stops as this film gets underway.

The crux of this story lies in the attempt to communicate with nature itself.

Zach has become convinced that Parnag Fegg, a nature spirit who watches over these particular woods, is real and that he can garner favor by worshipping the deity through art and supplication. Alma, meanwhile, has dug into the Malleus Maleficarum, combining pagan rituals with science in an attempt to tap into the “brain” or “mind” of the forest.

What they both manage to induce is a psychedelic landscape where science and magic are the same thing, and if Parnag Fegg exists, it’s entirely possible he’s very, very angry.

Surprisingly, while Censor, which also played the festival, came with a warning about extreme violence and gore, that film had nothing on Wheatley’s creation. There are brutal moments in this film in which the filmmaker teases the audience, threatening to show us more than what we’re ready to see before pulling back in such a way that we’re never entirely sure what we witnessed.

That feeling of unease creeps into the rest of the film, as well. The visuals and sounds of the film bring a feeling of sitting in a chair with a leg that you know could break at any moment.

What saves the film, and the audience, are the performances by Wheatley’s cast. This is top-notch talent bringing their A-game to every scene, no matter what they’re playing. Among them, I found Squires particularly good. There had to have been times while reading the script that she turned to the writer/director and asked, “And what is this all supposed to mean again?” but she never faltered in the performance. You will believe, at the very least, that she believes what she’s talking about and that is saying something.

Overall, In the Earth plays like the spiritual relative of films like Mandy and Color Out of Space with a healthy dose of The Ritual thrown in for good measure. If any, or all, of those films interest you, you will definitely want to check this one out.

I think what sells the film best, however, is that it is about seeking order in chaos, reason in the face of the unimaginable. And that is a feeling we as a collective species have come to know all too well in the last year.

Keep your eyes peeled for In the Earth as a larger release later this year, and stay tuned to iHorror for more Sundance coverage in the week to come!

Featured Photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Neon

Movie Reviews

Best 10 Horror Movies of 2022 Per Rotten Tomatoes Scores

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Woman covered in blood screaming into the camer

Like it or not the critic aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes is the place where films come to live or slowly die. Professional critics are the voice of opinion and that can sometimes be a weapon so mighty it can kill the biggest of dreams unintentionally.

Still, there are user reviews that can nefariously sway the numbers too. There is nowhere to hide. And yet the fact remains, those who want to read what others think before they dole out their cash for a movie seek out Rotten Tomatoes for advice.

Here are the horror movies Rotten Tomatoes thinks are the best of the year so far.

The Innocents (97%)

Children are creepy. At least the kids in this film are. Perhaps even more than being a top-rated horror movie this year, The Innocents is just a top-rated movie period. With a very unique twist and message, these children are evil film gets more disturbing as it moves along. With excellent acting by the pint-sized cast, this moderately paced chiller has a lot to say about the power of innocence.

Synopsis: During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveals their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren’t looking. In this original and gripping supernatural thriller, playtime takes a dangerous turn. Available on Prime VOD.

Hellbender (97%)

Mother and daughter try to figure out the power of their relationship and who will survive it in this which witch is which creepfest streaming on Shudder.

Synopsis: A teen and her mother live simply in a home in the woods, spending their time making metal music. A chance encounter with a fellow teen causes her to uncover a connection between her family and witchcraft, which causes a rift with her mother. Available on AMC+.

X (95%)

The film industry is a dangerous place. It’s also ageist. So it would seem making an adult movie with young stars would be a safe bet. But not in X. This loving homage is deep-rooted in 70s horror, especially the Tobe Hooper classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Even though all the tropes are there, the industry standard isn’t. The acting is so great in this film you can identify with most of its characters which sadly means director Ty West thinks us banal. Still, their reactions are believable and their intentions innocent despite the subject matter of their film.

With a prequel on the way and perhaps another on the way, X is a fun ride that doesn’t go gentle into that good night.

Synopsis: A group of actors sets out to make an adult film in rural Texas under the noses of their reclusive hosts, but when the elderly couple catches their young guests in the act, the cast finds themselves in a desperate fight for their lives. Available to rent on VOD.

You Won’t Be Alone (93%)

Take about elevated horror. You Won’t Be Alone has such a lofty story it transcends into the stratosphere. This intelligent and sublime fairy tale is so hypnotizing you won’t notice the nearly two-hour run time.

Synopsis: Set in an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, You Won’t Be Alone follows a young girl who is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by an ancient spirit. Curious about life as a human, the young witch accidentally kills a peasant in the nearby village and then takes her victim’s shape to live life in her skin. Her curiosity ignited, she continues to wield this horrific power in order to understand what it means to be human. Available on Peacock.

Prey (92%)

Officially the most watched movie premiere on Hulu, Prey is nothing like you have seen before. As a prequel to the 1987 action/horror movie Predator, it works because the premise is so original. Take one part Comanche warrior with only her hatchet and her dog to protect her then pit her against an advanced alien species who hunts living things for sport. Pack that all into a non-stop 99-minute movie and you have a mold-breaking sci-fi powerhouse.

Let’s not forget the introduction of Amber Midthunder who deserves to take a bow after her industry breakthrough performance. Come for the action, stay for the David and Goliath moral.

Synopsis: The origin story of the Predator in the world of the Comanche Nation 300 years ago. Naru, a skilled warrior, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth. Available on Hulu.

Hatching (92%)

Ooey and gooey, Hatching is a viscous nightmare. Taking several cues from the creature features of the 80s, this Finnish import had everyone talking at Sundance. Filled with practical effects, this film isn’t for the squeamish. It’s also not for people who don’t understand maternal instincts. As weird as it is intriguing, Hatching is an honorable debut for director Hanna Bergholm.

Synopsis: A young gymnast, who tries desperately to please her demanding mother, discovers a strange egg. She hides it and keeps it warm, but when it hatches, what emerges shocks them all. Available on Hulu.

Mad God (92%)

Thirty years in the making Mad God is quickly rising to the top of critics’ top ten lists. Stop motion animation and technological wizardry, this stunning film gets high marks for detail. Although some might get lost in its storytelling, there is no shame in reading the Wiki plot if only to better enjoy the labor of this masterwork.

Synopsis: A corroded diving bell descends amidst a ruined city and the Assassin emerges from it to explore a labyrinth of bizarre landscapes inhabited by freakish denizens. Available on Shudder.

Bodies Bodies Bodies (90%)

At first, the title evokes a beach full of hardbodies on spring break. If only that were the case. This A24 submission kind of snuck up on everybody, but it has since become a critical success. Directed by renowned actress Halina Reijn, Bodies Bodies Bodies puts yet another spin on the genre with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Synopsis: When a group of rich 20-somethings plan a hurricane party at a remote family mansion, a party game turns deadly in this fresh and funny look at backstabbing, fake friends, and one party gone very, very wrong. Only in theaters.

The Sadness (91%)

Vile and utterly repulsive, The Sadness is not a background movie to play at dinner. Although too campy to fit into the extreme horror genre, this film isn’t afraid to push boundaries or exploit your triggers. There is enough depravity that it should come with an emergency alert, and a free BetterHelp account.

Still this over-the-top gross-out is going to flood some fans with dopamine, and to others, regret.

Synopsis: A young couple trying to reunite amid a city ravaged by a plague that turns its victims into deranged, bloodthirsty sadists. Available on Shudder.

We Are All Going to The World’s Fair (90%)

Creepypasta for the soul. This coming-of-age fantasy is more daydream than dreadful. This was another buzzworthy entry at Sundance. And if you can’t tell what’s going on from the trailer join the rest of us. With eerie visuals and an ineffable storyline, We Are Going to The World’s Fair makes for a memorable experience.

Synopsis: Alone in her attic bedroom, teenager Casey becomes immersed in an online role-playing horror game, wherein she begins to document the changes that may or may not be happening to her. Available on VOD.

There you have it, the horror movies Rotten Tomatoes think are the best of 2022 so far. What do you think? Are they right or wrong? And as always, let us know your opinion, and if there is one that should be higher on their list. Comment about this article on FB here or on Twitter here.

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Movie Reviews

Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Deadstream’ Livestreams a Hectic Haunting

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Deadstream

Written and directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter, Deadstream is a real-time riot. With goopy practical effects, a bare-bones presentation, and a very intentionally acted lead (played by Joseph Winter), the film concocts a faux-livestream that turns from uneventful to unbelievable over the course of one night.

Leading the livestream is Shawn Ruddy (Winter), a recently disgraced social media star who’s gained his fame by performing a series of ridiculous challenges (including in-poor-taste tests such as “running from the cops” and “smuggled across the border”). With his grand return to the internet (after an apology video, naturally), Shawn has decided to take a spooky turn by spending the night in a supposedly haunted house. Of course, when a controversial personality is set loose in a house with a dark past, he’s bound to upset the spiritual balance. 

We’ve seen a few social influencer horror films pop up over the last few years, but it’s a subgenre that’s kind of slid under the radar. With Sissy and Deadstream – both included in Fantasia Fest’s 2022 season – it’s got a bit of a resurgence, but the two films tackle this topic in very different ways. 

Deadstream is a goofy, entertaining romp that throws Shawn around, forcing him to confront his demons (both personal and supernatural). Promising “the most cinematic experience in livestream history”, Shawn delivers just that. It feels kind of like Grave Encounters meets Evil Dead II, with plenty of slapstick comedy and some very active ghosts. 

Winter’s performance is so very over-the-top that it’s actually perfect. It would almost be annoying, but it’s such a precise lampoon of online personalities that it becomes quite impressive. Everything done and said is a deliberate performance. There’s a set “character” that these personalities play, always focused on engagement for the sake of clicks, follows, and sponsors. 

Shawn is a man who is always aware that he’s on camera. His regular interactions with his viewers serves a dual purpose as well; not only is he staying in his very specific character, but it’s also giving the audience a bit more to focus on than just one man with a camera (or set of cameras). 

Everything in the film is orchestrated in a way to keep the plot moving and the audience tuned in. The illusion works; it’s believable (or at least entertaining) content. Winter’s comedic timing is excellent and his line delivery sells the online fantasy.

The proudly 100% practical creature effects and straightforward camerawork keep things simple and manageable for a low budget. The film is clever, well constructed, and puts a fun new twist on both the haunted house and found footage subgenres. Deadstream frolics in the puddle of its own absurdity, and has such a blast doing so, you can’t help but join in the fun.


Deadstream is part of Fantasia International Film Festival‘s 2022 season. For more on Fantasia 2022, click here to read an interview with the writer/director of Skinamarink, or for more influencer horror, check out our review of Sissy.

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Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Sissy’ and the Obsession with Online Validation

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Sissy

“I am loved, I am special, I am enough, I am doing my best. We all are”. This is the mantra of Cecilia (known as @SincerelyCecilia), a wellness influencer who preaches acceptance and self care. Trouble is, Cecilia (Aisha Dee), has some skeletons in her closet.

In Sissy (written and directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes), Cecilia runs into Emma (played by Barlow), her childhood best friend. They haven’t seen each other in over a decade, but this fateful encounter brings them back together, just in time for Emma’s bachelorette weekend. Cecilia is invited along for a chance to reconnect, however, the weekend away happens to be held at the vacation home of her childhood bully, Alex (now Emma’s best friend). Cecilia tries to make amends, but tensions rise and sanity crumbles. 

Sissy

Hailing from Australia, Sissy is about obsession and the secrets we all hide. For every post that shares a seemingly perfect life, there’s an unseen personal history behind the smiles and hashtags. We only present the positives. 

The film smartly shows the physical effects of online praise; the boost of dopamine that tickles your brain. But as the glossy sheen fades and reality creeps back in, things aren’t so shiny. Sissy is a clever and darkly charming demonstration of this obsession with validation. The lengths we’d go to maintain that social ruse. 

Online, sharing any kind of sad reality can get you shunned like a leper. It’s considered either a cry for attention or a disturbing affront. And in a time where nothing is hidden, secrets can ruin you. 

Dee is delightful as Cecilia. As balanced and zen as she seems in her opening video, we see her insecure, messy reality. It’s a good reminder that all those online influencers you see are really just people, presenting their best side with very deliberate design. It’s a fabrication. As she begins to lose her chill, all the cracks from her childhood start to show.  

Each role is perfectly cast, creating a group of characters who are believably close (and catty). Barlow and Senes capture the extreme social anxiety of Cecilia’s situation quite perfectly; anyone who’s had an anxiety attack before will find that pressure uncomfortably real. 

Things escalate quickly when you’re pushed past your anxiety’s breaking point, and Cecilia’s reactions are actually pretty unsurprising. This relatability is well orchestrated by Barlow and Senes, tightening the strings until they snap. 

Sissy

The film is well polished, well paced, and excellent at crafting a mix of emotions towards our dear sincere Ceclia. Her validation elation and pure bullied dread are beautifully communicated. The score adds to this, too, with a plinking harpsichord to highlight a twisted mental state.

Sissy works well and does exactly what it means to. It’s an entertaining and well crafted horror film, but it also shines a focus on the unreality of online influencers, and what exactly all that attention does to one’s mental health. 

Influencer culture is a bizarre thing. We only see what’s curated, and put our trust in people we don’t know. There’s a conversation within the film that explores this idea; how much should we hold influencers responsible? What are their credentials, really? On a grander scale, what does that pressure do to a person? 

While Sissy does pose some challenges towards influencer culture, it also understands the impulse to want that kind of attention. It acts a bit as a cautionary tale for online obsession, but also serves as a great horror film with some gnarly effects.

Sissy is for anyone who craves validation. It’s for anyone who doesn’t quite feel like they fit in. It’s for anyone who feels like they’re not enough. But really, it’s for everyone.

4 eyes out of 5

Sissy is part of the Fantasia International Film Festival’s 2022 lineup. You can check out the trailer and poster below.

For more from Fantasia 2022, check out our review of Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious, or our interview with the writer/director of the chaotically psychedelic All Jacked Up and Full of Worms

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