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
Shark Film ‘MANEATER’ Shows No Mercy!
To highlight the release of Maneater, star Nicky Whelan chatted with iHorror on how the film was made.
The latest killer shark film, Maneater, shows no mercy and does a splendid job of delivering a high body count. This film has received gaping reviews, many are hating on it, but I plan on showing this film a little love. The film is not overwhelming or astounding, but I had a great time! Right away, the audience receives death and wastes no time setting the story up for more. The question is asked early on, “who will live and who will die?” Director Lee isn’t camera shy and has no qualms about lingering over the gore caused by the massive shark.
We’ve all seen different variations of Great White Sharks throughout our favorite shark movies; some are better than others. This shark does change quite often throughout the film, the look, and the size quite noticeably, and this still did not stop me from having a fabulous time. Sometimes you do your best with what you have; I respect that with cinema, and I am just a sucker for shark films, ha!
I believe sometimes we don’t watch killer shark movies for the plot or characters, but it’s a pure bonus when we get something more!
Despite many of the cast members being picked off one by one, some very quickly, there was some character development, especially with Jessie (Nicky Whelan). Jessie had just come out of a long-term relationship, and her friends dragged and “made” her come to this tropical paradise with them. The story is kept relatively simple, and sometimes it can become a bit cliché, but hell, I didn’t mind; it was a bloody good time!
MANEATER is now available in theaters, digital, and on-demand from Saban Films.
Synopsis: Jesse and her friends’ idyllic island vacation turns into a gruesome nightmare when they become the target of an unrelenting great white shark. Desperate to survive, she teams up with a local sea captain to stop the vicious maneater before it strikes again in this heart-pounding thriller.
I had the privilege of speaking with star Nicky Whelan (Jessie) from the film. Nicky was a blast, and I hope I can talk to her again about her future projects. We spoke about Maneater, of course, and touched upon her work with Rob Zombie, upcoming features, and Halloween traditions in Australia (where she grew up). Check out our conversation below; you’ll be glad you did.
Conversation With Actress Nicky Whelan
Nicky Whelan: Hi, Ryan.
iHorror: Hi, Nicky, how are you?
NW: I am well, thank you, love; how are you?
iH: I am doing good; thank you so much for taking my call today. I have a few questions; first and foremost, I enjoyed the film. I enjoyed the characters, and it was what I was looking for; it fit in well with my weekend watch, and there were many great things about it. The cinematography was gorgeous; it was beautifully shot. A couple of the characters I did care about, especially Captain Wally, I was so upset when the shark ate him. Both of your characters had such good chemistry; I was hoping there would have been something.
NW: I think in the earlier script, there was something that was going to happen with our characters, and I do not know why it didn’t go in that direction; something had changed in the script. To be honest with you, I liked how it didn’t turn into a romantic story, and it came more about the independent vibe that my character got to have and the father/daughter connection that was developed with the Trace Adkins character [Harlan]. So it’s interesting that you say that, yet I like the way we went with the ending because it wasn’t your typical sort of ending; I kinda liked it.
iH: It was different. It was great either way. When you got attached to the project, was it a normal interview, or was there anything special about you getting attached?
NW: You know, I’ve worked with those guys before, and they sent me the script, and I was like, ‘oh my goodness, a shark movie, let’s do this.’ Shark movies are great; they come out all the time and have a huge following. People have either made crazy ridiculous ones or realistic ones; people have a thing for shark movies. I was like, ‘okay, let’s give this a crack,’ and it was in Hawaii, and I am like, ‘yes, please.’
iH: I actually didn’t know that; now it’s usually one hundred percent CGI.
NW: Absolutely, and obviously, we did use a CGI shark throughout the movie, but there are moments where Justin [Lee, Director] wanted to use it, and we were like, ‘okay, let’s do this, it’s gonna drive us all crazy but let’s give it a crack’ [laughs].
iH: Was there anything in particular about the shoot that was challenging or difficult?
NW: The entire production, it was an independent shark movie being made in 18 days with a mechanical shark under pretty crazy conditions. As an entire team, we really went in old school. It was very challenging; the water conditions were full on, and we had limited time and money, so we were proud of the result. I was personally challenged physically on this movie. I wasn’t prepared to do the swimming [laughs]. I was like, ‘oh shit.’ I consider myself sort of fit, but this kicked my ass, and I was exhausted from swimming in the water all day and the ocean. The locals really took care of us, and we felt very safe. The boiling heat and rough water and early starts. It was a lot. Using the mechanical shark and having the puppeteers there, lugging this thing in and out of the water. The camera crew was standing in the water for hours, not knowing what was at their feet; it was no joke; I was scared a few times [shrieks, laughs]. It was full-on.
iH: Did you see anything in the water when you were there?
NW: No, just a few fish. It was the beautiful waters of Hawaii. It was very safe; Hawaii is a great place. I have been there many times before. It wasn’t so much of the fear of what was in the water. I was sometimes a little nervous because I couldn’t see the bottom, and I was like, ‘what am I standing on?’ Something squishy and a rock, ‘what is going on?’ [Squeels] [Laughs] The locals rest assured ‘you’re good,’ and I put my trust in them. I was exhausted; the choppy water really exhausted me.
iH: I bet; I couldn’t have done it. That is a testament to the dedication of everyone involved. That is just awesome, it sounds like it was a close-knit group, and eighteen days is just amazing; that is quick!
NW: Honesty for a shark movie it’s insane; it’s not a lot of time. The budget was small, so you couldn’t do much of the stuff you wanted. This is why it was a tight group of people making the most of a situation, I was really proud of it, and we got it out there.
iH: That is great, and has this experience, this move, in particular, made you think about directing?
NW: If I am going to direct anything, it won’t be a shark movie. It is a real baller to take on that project, to be out on the water for eighteen days; you’ve got so much going up against you, it is a challenge. It is funny that you talk about directing; I love music videos old school; I was an 80’s baby; I would love to direct music videos which are completely center-left of ‘ManEater’ and what we are talking about, that would be somewhere I kind of would start. I can definitely appreciate what Justin [Lee], our Director, went through on this movie and the team trying to make this work under the conditions. It was satisfying to wrap up this move and walk away; it was a lot of work, and we were exhausted, but it felt good at the end of it.
iH: I was looking through your IMDB, and it looks like you have an alligator film in the works? The Flood.
NW: Yes, we’ve got shark movies, we’ve got alligator movies; I am taking on every scary animal on the planet. We’ve got The Flood coming out. I’ve got a comedy coming out, which was great to be a part of; I hadn’t been on a comedy set for a minute; it’s called The Nana Project. There is an action movie with Dolf Lungren and Luke Wilson coming out; I have been jumping around doing random projects doing some really different genres as I do [Laughs].
iH: That is awesome. I love hearing that!
NW: It definitely feels good; it’s not the same thing over and over again, that’s for sure.
iH: I know that we spoke about ‘Jaws,’ but what is your favorite scary movie?
NW: Honestly, my favorite scary movie is so hardcore, and I got to work with him: it is ‘House of 1,000 Corpses’ by Rob Zombie, with whom I did Halloween II. I love him; I love his work – that movie. I think I went to the movies and saw it a bunch of times. Old school, absolutely horrifying scary, and I loved it.
iH: I did remember your character very briefly in Halloween II.
NW: Yeah, it was more about getting to work with Rob Zombie. It was a small role. I was like, ‘send me to Atlanta; I want to be in the mix with those great people.’ Rob is amazing at horror; it was so cool, just a badass group of people; that was a good one.
iH: He always does things, he has The Munsters coming out, and I can’t wait for that.
NW: It looks amazing; good for him. He is always taking on projects like that. I love his take on stuff.
iH: Do you currently live in Australia?
NW: No love, I have been in America for sixteen years.
iH: I was just curious, are there any Halloween traditions in Australia?
NW: There really wasn’t. Growing up, Halloween wasn’t huge. People now have jumped on board the whole dress-up thing now. In the past ten years, Australians do Halloweenie stuff; as a kid, we would not trick or treat; that was not part of the Australian culture; it was definitely an American thing. I am a Star Wars nerd, every Halloween, if I am not filming, you’ll see me as some sort of Jedi or with some extreme costume on, really taking advantage of Halloween; it’s my favorite holiday.
iH: That is awesome; I know we have to wrap up; thank you so much for speaking with me; congratulations, and I hope to talk to you soon sometime about a different project.
NW: Absolutely love, thank you very much.
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Best 10 Horror Movies of 2022 Per Rotten Tomatoes Scores
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.
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+.
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.
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.
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.
Fantasia 2022 Review: ‘Deadstream’ Livestreams a Hectic Haunting
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.