Reared by English filmmaker and screenwriter Ben Wheatley, ‘In the Earth’ is a gripping, captivating, and visceral Lovecraftian horror movie that builds its brooding ambiance with a skeptic outlook towards its own myth. The oddball visual trip is partly science fiction, partly witchcraft, and partly a study on the nature of faith, with some stomach-churning and gore body horror images in the mix.
The narrative revolves around bio-scientist Martin and park ranger Alma, who undertake a perilous journey into the center of the woods to find a research camp surrounded by fog and mystery. The story is confusing as it ventures into the metaphysical realm, and the reaction has thus been a bit polarizing. You may think of it one way or the other, but the ominous and ambient energy of the movie will pull you through to the end. The ending moments unfold in flashes of light and buzzing of sound, and you may miss out on some details. In that case, let us take you back to the spirited forest. SPOILERS AHEAD.
In The Earth Plot Synopsis
The onset of a deadly virus has surprised the world, and the overall mood is gloomy. Scientist Martin Lowery reaches a post outside a dense jungle near Bristol. He is tasked with meeting Dr. Olivia Wendle, his former colleague at Fashdale Institute and ex-lover. In the first scene, he is tested for the virus and comes out negative. He learns the local myth that a fabled spirit named Parnag Fegg lives in the forest. He gets some rest, and the next day, park ranger Alma comes to assist him in the hike to Dr. Wendle’s lab.
They embark upon their two-day hike, which turns out to be a sprawling and threatening journey. Martin is not as fit as he seemed during the medical test, and the hike is tiring for him. Moreover, their shoes get stolen at night in a sudden attack, and they find it difficult to walk barefooted, especially Martin. Martin wounds his foot walking, but a beguiling man named Zach approaches them. Martin and Alma trust Zach, and he seems helpful, but that is until Zach drugs them and starts making hexagrams and doing witchcraft rituals. Martin and Alma flee to fall into an even more dangerous trap.
In The Earth Ending: Is Martin Dead or Alive?
Zach initially comes off as a guy who knows what he is doing. He takes a look at the wound of Martin, carelessly disinfects him, and goes on to stitch him with a nylon thread lying around. The yarn is not sterilized, which we come to know later. Zach gives them a drink apparently made of something similar to elderflower, but the drink is not what he says it is, and the duo shortly falls unconscious. Zach takes them to another room, dresses them up, and takes ritualistic photos. When confronted, he says that the images are for appeasing the spirit of the jungle and that his ways are better than that of Wendle. Martin’s wound becomes infected after a while, and Zach goes on to perform an amputation.
By this time, Zach seems like a deranged person. When Martin pleads with Zach to take him to a hospital, Zach ignores that and cuts off half of Martin’s toes. Thankfully, Alma gets the situation under control and rescues Martin before it’s too late. Martin and Alma both run for their lives, and after striking down Alma with an arrow, Zach comes after Martin with his ax. Martin stays in the radar of the motion sensor cameras to illuminate his way, but a fog obscures their vision. In the flashing and blinding light, Zach’s silhouetted face creates an eerie ambiance.
However, Zach mysteriously retreats after a seemingly supernatural experience while Martin regroups with Alma. Moreover, they find the research site of Olivia. From Olivia, we come to know that Zach is her ex-husband, who has been lured into the region by a guiding voice in his head. Olivia deduces that Martin also has had a similar experience, and she concludes that the jungle has created a neural connection with her. She also states that there are no ways out of the jungle — that the jungle wants to keep them forever imprisoned. Alma attempts to cut through the region of dense mist created by moisture and mushroom pores but is pulled back after an episode of hallucination.
In the end, the fabled spirit apparently comes to communicate with Olivia. She needs some help to execute the experiment as recorded in the ‘Malleus Maleficarum,’ and after the episode of Alma, Martin is quite happy to volunteer. Martin takes up the daunting task of communicating with the standing stone by consuming a “sacrament” (mushroom milk). Olivia does not say, and Zach divulges later that the communication procedure also needs a sacrifice. Martin is the unfortunate one chosen for sacrifice, and while Alma deals with Zach, Olivia creeps up to Martin with a knife. However, as the penultimate scene reveals, Martin is alive. Alma wakes him up and assures him to take him out of the jungle.
Are Olivia and Zach Dead?
However, the questions regarding Olivia and Zach’s final fates still linger in the audience’s mind. Alma escapes her post near the standing stone and heads back to the tent to find Olivia playing the piano in the final encounter. The room, however, is decorated with photos presumably clicked by Zach. Although separated, Olivia and Zach are in league with each other for this pantheist witchcraft ritual. Both of them seek to invoke the spirit finally. Although the audience initially thinks of Olivia as a person of science, her consultation of a witchcraft book proves us wrong.
It seems that the parted husband and wife have found middle ground in the isolated and mystical jungle. After the revelation, Alma and Zach engage in a face-off. Alma hits Zach’s eyes, and although a man who seemingly knows the ways of nature and is confident about his knowledge, Zach asks to be taken to a hospital in the final moment. As an enraged Alma bashes him, he is undoubtedly dead, but we don’t know what happens to Olivia. Alma may have killed her, or if we are to believe in the myth of the story, she has become one with nature.
Is The Forest Spirit Real?
The forested spirit is called Parnag Fegg, which roughly translates as light and sound. This is the spirit with which both Olivia and Zach are trying to communicate. The spirit rarely takes a physical form but denotes its presence in the eerie ambiance of the forest. After her visceral trip, when Alma returns to the camp, she describes the spirit in vague and discordant terms.
“It’s not what you think it is. It’s everything,” Alma says to Martin. The suggestion given in the movie is that the whole forest is a living and breathing organism. Every ecosystem is living and dynamic, but the movie is predominantly concerned with the phenomenon of mycorrhiza – interdependent and symbiotically interlinked organisms that create a sense of oneness.
They may be different trees and fungi, but they are connected through a connected network of roots. The mysteries embedded within nature manifest in visceral and horrific forms; combined with human nature to connect the dots, these mysteries shape a forest spirit in the local myth. We don’t see the spirit even once, barring the moment towards the end when the spirit comes near the camp with a burning torch, which can very well be Zach. The hallucination may be induced by a substance immersed in the mist itself, and therefore, the spirit is most definitely a creation of the superstitious mind.
Read More: Where Was In The Earth Filmed?