Sundance Dispatch: In the Earth & El Planeta
In the Earth
If we’re being honest, we should probably consider a moratorium on COVID-related films — at least until we’re a little closer to the other side — but if the pandemic is going to feature in our narratives moving forward Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth sets a pretty good example of how to tackle the subject. Though the film starts with a slightly off-kilter version of the routines we’re now all-too-familiar with — masks, hand sanitizer, interrogation regarding symptoms — the story of a scientific expedition into the forest quickly becomes something more akin to The Wicker Man meets Annihilation. Though it may not reach the heights of either of those two comparison points (masterpieces both, of course), there’s a lot of peer-through-your-fingers fun to be had as In the Earth takes several grisly, gory turns into comfortably non-pandemic based horror. The entirety of the small ensemble (including Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires, and Ellora Torchia) is game for Wheatley’s brand of violence, but you’ll walk away with a newfound appreciation for Joel Fry, who plays a horror victim with a brand of tired resignation that’s impossible not to be charmed by — even as the poor fellow faces one too many threats to his appendages.
Amalia Ulman pulls triple duty in her feature debut El Planeta, writing, directing, and starring in a charming character study of a mother and daughter facing the loss of a certain level of public-facing luxury to which they had become accustomed. Shot in an aesthetically pleasing black and white by Carlos Rigo, the film moves from scene to scene with a laid-back rhythm, following Leonor (Ulman) and María (Ale Ulman) as they attempt to grift their way through their daily lives. A cheeky score by Chicken underlies Leonor and María’s pursuits — including shoplifting and the consideration of escort work — but as the bond between mother and daughter rekindles a certain inevitable melancholy sinks in. The film is a relatively brief one, clocking in at a mere 79 minutes, but Ulman’s storytelling feels both economical and expansive, betraying a keen eye for expressiveness. As she cuts every so often to close-ups of silent faces, we capture a sense of the world beyond the frame and wonder what she might have in store for us next.