Review: ‘Saltburn,’ starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Oliver and Archie Madekwe

November 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Barry Keoghan in “Saltburn” (Photo courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios)

“Saltburn”

Directed by Emerald Fennell

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, mostly in 2006, the comedy/drama film “Saltburn” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A mysterious Oxford University student becomes infatuated with his rich male classmate, who invites him to spend the summer with him at his family’s sprawling estate, where mind games and chaos ensue. 

Culture Audience: “Saltburn” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and movies that skewer the upper class of society.

Jacob Elordi in “Saltburn” (Photo courtesy of Amazon MGM Studios)

“Saltburn” seems inspired by “Brideshead Revisited” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” with a touch of “Absolutely Fabulous. “Although not as great as these inspirations, “Saltburn” has memorable performances and eye-catching scenes. The ending has a major plot hole. This plot hole might be easily overlooked during the sequence of events that are meant to shock viewers, but it’s a plot hole that nearly ruins what could have been a completely believable conclusion. Hint: “Saltburn” ignores the fact that coroners exist.

Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, “Saltburn” is her second feature film as a writer/director, following her 2020 feature-film directorial debut, “Promising Young Woman,” which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. “Saltburn” has many recycled plot points from other movies, so “Saltburn” is not really all that original, but it does have some scenes that are fairly unique. “Saltburn” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival.

“Saltburn” (which takes place mostly in 2006) begins by showing the arrival of a new student at Oxford University in England: Oliver Quick (played by Barry Keoghan) has joined the graduating Class of 2006 sometime in December 2005, close to the Christmas holiday season. Oliver is a loner who is the type of overachieving student who will read every book on a professor’s recommended list, even though he doesn’t have to do all that work.

One of the first people Oliver meets at Oxford is one of his roommates: Michael Gavey (played by Ewan Mitchell), who wants to be Oliver’s friend and is even nerdier and more socially awkward than Oliver is. Michael is the type of dork who will bark out demands that Oliver prove his knowledge of answers to random questions that Michael verbally throws at him. Michael likes to feel intellectually superior to almost everyone, even though he secretly craves acceptance from the popular students in the school.

The most popular clique in the class is led by a wealthy heartthrob named Felix Catton (played by Jacob Elordi), who uses his good looks and charm to get whatever he wants. The Catton family’s opulent and sprawling estate is called Saltburn. The other students in Felix’s clique are also affluent and/or come from prominent families.

The opening scene of “Saltburn” shows Oliver saying, “I wasn’t in love with him. I loved him, of course, Everyone loved him … I protected him … But was I in love with him?” Before he answers that question, the movie shows Oliver’s arrival at Oxford.

The “him” in Oliver’s opening monologue is Felix, of course. Oliver seems instantly infatuated with Felix the moment that he sees Felix. Oliver admires Felix from afar, until one day, Oliver is riding his bike on campus, when he sees Felix looking dejected as Felix is sitting near a tree-lined bikeway path. Oliver stops and asks Felix what’s wrong. Felix says that his bicycle has a flat tire.

Felix explains that he’s already late for a class, which is too far away for him to walk in order not to miss most of the class session. Oliver generously lets Felix borrow Oliver’s bike. A grateful Felix later invites Oliver to hang out with Felix and his inner circle at a local pub. It’s the beginning of a friendship between Felix and Oliver, who quickly shuns Michael after Oliver is accepted into Felix’s clique. Michael isn’t too happy about this rejection and later makes some hilarious cutting remarks to Oliver about Oliver’s social climbing.

Someone who also isn’t happy about Oliver joining the group is Felix’s American cousin Farleigh Start (played by Archie Madekwe), who sees Oliver as a socially inferior interloper. Farleigh already had a grudge against Oliver, who embarrassed Farleigh in front of one of their teachers named Professor Ware (played Reece Shearsmith), when Oliver showed he knew more than Farleigh about the topic of discussion.

However, Farleigh still has some clout with the professor, who confesses that Farleigh’s mother (a famous actress named Fredrika Start, who’s never seen in the movie) was his crush when he and Fredrika were students at Oxford. People who watch “Saltburn” shouldn’t miss the first 15 minutes of the movie, which quickly explains the backstories of Farleigh and Oliver, who end up having a rivalry over Felix’s attention.

Farleigh’s mother moved to the United States, where Farleigh was born and raised. She had some kind of mental breakdown and has financial problems, so she sent Farleigh to live at Saltburn, because her brother is Sir James Catton (played by Richard E. Grant), who is Felix’s father. Farleigh’s father is not in Farleigh’s life. It’s mentioned Farleigh has been expelled from many schools for getting sexually involved with male teachers. Farleigh feels a lot of resentment and shame for having to ask his uncle James for money.

As for Oliver, the word has gotten around to many students at the school that he’s on a scholarship. Oliver tells people that he is an only child, and his estranged parents are heavily involved in drugs. According to Oliver, his father is a drug dealer who’s been in and out of prison. His mother is a drug addict and an alcoholic. Oliver hints that he experienced a lot of abuse and trauma in his childhood. Oliver makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with his parents.

“Saltburn” breezes by the academic year to show the graduation of Oxford’s Class of 2006. With no immediate plans after graduation, Felix invites Oliver to stay for the summer with the Catton family at Saltburn. The best parts of the movie take place at Saltburn, which is not only a playground for the family’s indulgences but also a prison of bottled-up resentments, sexual manipulation, and psychological warfare. Oliver gets swept up in it all.

The other members of the Catton family at Saltburn are Felix’s self-centered and vapid mother Elspeth Catton (played by Rosamund Pike) and Felix’s jaded and insecure late-teens sister Venetia Catton (played by Alison Oliver), who have some of the best lines in the movie. Elspeth is the type of person who will smile and pretend that her insults are compliments. Venetia, who has an eating disorder, is both rebellious and needy.

All of the Catton family members don’t do much at Saltburn except smoke, drink, eat lavish meals, lounge around, and have parties. When the younger members of the family play tennis, they wear tuxedos and party clothes. The family has a longtime butler named Duncan (played by Paul Rhys), whose “stiff upper lip” mannerisms suggest that he’s heard and seen a lot of unmentionable things at Saltburn, but he is loyally discreet.

Carey Mulligan (the star of “Promising Young Woman”) has a small supporting role in “Saltburn” as Elspeth’s tattooed friend Pamela, who is staying at Saltburn after getting out of drug rehab. Pamela has overstayed her welcome, but Elspeth won’t come right out and tell Pamela to leave. The snappy rapport between redhead Pamela and blonde Elspeth will remind “Absolutely Fabulous” sitcom fans of the rapport between “Absolutely Fabulous” substance-abusing fashionista friends Edina “Eddie” Monsoon (the redhead) and Patricia “Patsy” Stone (the blonde).

“Saltburn” unpeels the layers of Oliver, who at first seems in awe and somewhat overwhelmed to be in the presence of the Catton family’s wealth. Slowly but surely, it’s revealed that there’s a lot more to Oliver than what he first appeared to be. And there are some things he does in the movie (especially those involving bodily fluids) that are intended to make viewers uncomfortable.

Keoghan gives a fascinating performance as Oliver, who is quite the chameleon. Madekwe is compelling in his depiction of the very snarky Farleigh, Oliver’s main adversary. Pike and Oliver are also standouts for their portrayals of a mother and daughter who are caught between smug vanity and crippling self-doubt. Look beneath the physically attractive surfaces of Elspeth and Venetia, and you’ll see two women who hate that their worth is defined by how they look and how much wealth they have.

Elordi is also quite good in his role as Felix, who is shallow but is a less-toxic member of the Catton family. “Saltburn” plays with viewers’ expectations of whether or not ladies’ man Felix will acknowledge Oliver’s obvious infatuation with Felix. And if so, what will be done about it? And what if Oliver gets rejected?

“Saltburn” has some stunning cinematography (by Linus Sandgren) that alternates between bright hues of idyllic luxury and the shadowy darkness of secrets and decadence. The movie’s production design and costume design are also noteworthy. “Saltburn” has some intense emotional scenes that are well-acted with clever dialogue.

Where “Saltburn” stumbles the most is in the last 20 minutes of the movie, which will be divisive to viewers. The concluding part of “Saltburn” is very suspenseful, but when answers to mysteries are finally revealed, they are rushed through the story and just create more questions that the movie never bothers to answer. Still, there’s no denying that the cast members’ performances are worth watching. And the movie’s flaws are outnumbered by the areas where “Saltburn” excels.

Amazon MGM Studios released “Saltburn” in select U.S. cinemas on November 17, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 22, 2023. Prime Video will premiere “Saltburn” on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘See How They Run’ (2022), starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Harris Dickinson, Reece Shearsmith and David Oyelowo

September 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan in “See How They Run” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Searchlight Pictures)

“See How They Run” (2022)

Directed by John Patton Ford

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, mostly in 1953, the comedy/drama film “See How They Run” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asian people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A jaded police inspector and his rookie partner, who have opposite personalities and contrasting styles of working, investigate serial murders that appear to be linked to the planned-for movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play “The Mousetrap.” 

Culture Audience: “See How They Run” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies that are inspired by Agatha Christie mystery novels.

Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, Sian Clifford, Pearl Chanda, Jacob Fortune Lloyd, David Oyelowo and Ania Marson in “See How They Run” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Searchlight Pictures)

“See How They Run” doesn’t quite reach the classic heights of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, which are this comedy/drama movie’s admitted inspirations. However, it’s worth watching for the entertaining performances and clever observations of showbiz. The last third of “See How They Run” stumbles a bit in how the mystery is revealed, but it doesn’t take away from the movie’s overall appeal to viewers who are interested in British movies that poke fun at the entertainment industry in a story about solving crimes.

“See How They Run” is the feature-film directorial debut of Tom George, who is known for directing in British television. His TV credits include his BAFTA-winning work directing the BBC comedy show “The Country,” as well as the BBC comedy “Defending the Guilty.” His keen sense of comedic timing serves “See How They Run” very well, since most Agatha Christie-styled movies definitely do not have the screwball comedy qualities that are in “See How They Run.” Mark Chappell wrote the “See How They Run” screenplay, which is better at crafting characters than it is as explaining some of the unanswered questions in this murder mystery.

Every movie inspired by Agatha Christie’s writing has a fairly large ensemble of characters who are considered suspects or persons of interests in the murder case until the real killer or killers can eventually be revealed. The body count in “See How They Run” is a lot lower than a typical story of this ilk, but that just makes it more intriguing to guess who’s behind the murders. Fortunately, the movie isn’t cluttered with too many chararacters, so it’s easy to keep track of who everyone is.

“See How They Run,” which is set primarily in 1953 London, also balances multiple layers, because it’s a story with several flashbacks, as well as a whodunit that’s directly tied to the real-life, long-running West End production of Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” Although most of the characters in “See How They Run” are fictional, some of the characters are based on real people, including Christie herself. The movie does a better job at handling the flashbacks than it does in trying to show parallels between “The Mousetrap” and the original screenplay for “See How They Run.”

“See How They Run” opens with a scene that is later referred to in flashbacks. In 1953, on London’s West End, several people have gathered for a nighttime party at the Dominion Theatre, to celebrate the 100th performance of “The Mousetrap.” Among the partiers are members of the cast and some people who are involved in making a feature film version of “The Mousetrap,” including American director Leo Köpernick (played by Adrien Brody), who has been blacklisted in Hollywood, due to the Red Scare targeting suspected Communists.

The night of this party will also be the last night of Leo’s life, since he will be murdered in a backstage costume shop by a mystery person wearing a trench coat, a mask and a fedora. The murderer definitely looks like a man, but with these mystery stories, the killer’s gender can’t always be presumed. At first, Leo is attacked by the murderer trying to strangle Leo with a wire. Leo breaks free, but is killed when the murderer beats him to with a fire extinguisher.

A now-dead Leo then provides intermittent narration for the rest of the movie. Not everyone who watches this movie will like this “voice from the dead” narration. However, it’s a director choice that’s quite unconventional and provides a perspective that doesn’t make things easy for viewers, because Leo is eventually exposed as a sleazy character who might be an unreliable narrator.

The two cops who end up being the primary investigators for Leo’s murder are two very opposite people: Inspector Stoppard (played by Inspector Sam Rockwell) is a world-weary alcoholic, who approaches the investigation with a skepticism where he doesn’t come to any conclusions until he sees indisputable evidence. Constable Stalker (played by Saiorse Ronan) is an eager-to-please rookie who’s an Irish immigrant with a tendency to jump to conclusions without hard evidence.

Predictably, Stoppard and Stalker often clash, with Stoppard embodying the cliché of an older cop who’s forced to work with a younger cop and is frequently annoyed by the younger cop in the process. It doesn’t help that Stoppard is very sexist and doesn’t believe that police detective work is a job that women can do as well as men. The supervisor for Stoppard and Stalker is a police commissioner named Harrold Scott (played by Tim Key), who is more concerned about his own public-relations image and career ambitions than he is about getting justice for the crimes investigated by his department.

It isn’t long before Stoppard and Stalker have a group of people to interview and investigate. They include:

  • Petula “Choo” Spencer (played by Ruth Wilson), the no-nonsense producer/chief investor of “The Mousetrap” play. It’s later revealed that she has a motive to prevent the movie version of “The Mousetrap” from getting made.
  • Mignon Saunders (played by Ania Marson), Petula’s eccentric mother. Mignon doesn’t say much, but does that mean she knows more than she’s telling?
  • John Woolf (played by Reece Shearsmith), the wealthy film producer of “The Mousetrap” movie. (This character is based on the real John Woolf.) John is the person who decided to hire Leo, because of Leo’s talent and track record of making award-winning films.
  • Ann Saville (played by Pippa Bennett Warner), John’s administrative assistant and his mistress. Ann is every much in love with John and expects him to eventually divorce his wife and marry Ann.
  • Edana Romney (played by Sian Clifford), John’s wife, who considers herself to be an amateur psychic. It’s revealed in the movie if she knows about John’s affair with Ann.
  • Mervyn “Merv” Cocker-Norris (played by David Oyelowo), the pompous screenwriter for “The Mousetrap” movie. Mervyn and Leo were feuding because Leo didn’t like Mervyn’s script, but Mervyn refused to do a rewrite. Not long before Leo was murdered, Leo and Mervyn had a very public argument where Mervyn threatened to kill Leo.
  • Giovanni “Gio” Bigotti (played by Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), Mervyn’s Italian lover, who is fairly quiet and very supportive of Mervyn. Giovanni and Mervyn are a gay couple in a “don’t ask, don’t tell way,” where they don’t make it obvious but they don’t try to hide the nature of their relationship either.
  • Dennis (played by Charlie Cooper), a Dominion Theatre usher who reported that he saw a “suspicious”-looking man lurking in the area where Leo’s murdered body was found.
  • Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (played by Harris Dickinson), the hotshot actor who’s the star of “The Mousetrap” play. Based on the real Attenborough, this character wants to do everything possible to keep the play going
  • Sheila Sim (played by Pearl Chanda), Dickie’s actress wife (based on the real Sheila Sim), whose career has become overshadowed by Dickie’s. Sheila and Dickie, who are co-stars in “The Mousetrap” play, have been experiencing some problems in their marriage, and their relationship has become somewhat strained.

World-renowned mystery writer Christie (played by Shirley Henderson) makes an appearance in the last third of the movie and does something awkward that isn’t handled very well or is made believable, considering that she is a crime aficionado. This tricky scene is played for laughs, but it could have been thought out in a much better way. Her devoted husband Max Mallowan (played by Lucian Msamati) and her prickly butler Fellowes (played by Paul Chahidi) also make appearances toward the end of the movie.

Constable Stalker is often a bundle of nervous energy when she’s with Inspector Stoddard. She talks quickly and is eager to share her knowledge of movies (she’s a big fan) and crime novels, but he shows disdain for this fiction entertainment influencing her thoughts as police investigator. Later, when Constable Stalker and Inspector Stoddard spend some time alone together, they open up to each other about their personal lives. She’s a widow with a son and a daughter. He’s divorced (his wife left him) with no children. Constable Stalker eventually finds out about Inspector Stoddard’s alcoholism and sees how vulnerable his alcoholism makes him.

Of course, every murder mystery reveals secrets about the people who are being investigated. Leo is not a sympathetic victim. The police find out that he has a long history of sexually harassing and possibly sexually assaulting women. Leo kept meticulous records of the women he encountered.

As an example of Leo being a sexual predator, he was staying at the luxury Savoy Hotel (in a suite paid for by John), where the maids eventually refused to go in Leo’s suite because of how badly he was sexually harassing them. On the night that Leo was murdered, he and Dickie got into a huge physical brawl in front of the party crowd. The fight happened because Leo sexually propositioned Sheila, by implying that Leo would cast her in “The Mousetrap” movie if she had sex with him.

“See How They Run” is filmed and performed much like how this movie would look if it really were filmed in 1953. This type of retro filmmaking won’t appeal to everyone, but the movie does a competent job of recreating the British culture, fashion and production design of that era. There are signs and not-so-subtle indications that Constable Stalker is an outsider not just because she’s a woman in a very male-dominated field but also because she’s an Irish immigrant living in the England.

Rockwell and Ronan, who are both talented in whatever they do, have a crackling chemistry as Stoppard and Stalker that intentionally starts off as uncomfortable to watch but becomes somewhat endearing as Stoppard and Stalker begin to trust each other in this “odd couple” police partnership. Oyelowo is also a standout because he looks like he’s having fun playing the pretentious and flamboyant Mervyn, who has some of the best lines in the movie.a

“See How They Run” falters with a few murky plot developments that raise questions that aren’t really answered. One of them involves the identity of Stoppard’s ex-wife. However, the movie does effectively lampoon a lot of the stereotypes of murder mystery movies, such as the use of flashbacks and using the most obvious suspects as red herrings. There are also many satirical moments about what showbiz people say and do in pursuit of fame, fortune and power.

Are there much better murder mystery movies in the world? Of course. “See How They Run” isn’t among the cream of the crop. However, for people who are inclined to like this genre and like watching talented cast members who give capable performances, this movie can offer some enjoyable escapism.

Searchlight Pictures will release “See How They Run” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on September 9, 2022.

 

Review: ‘In the Earth,’ starring Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith and Hayley Squires

April 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia in “In the Earth” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“In the Earth”

Directed by Ben Wheatley

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of England, the sci-fi horror film “In the Earth” features a racially diverse cast (white people, black people and one person of Indian heritage) who mostly portray scientists during an unnamed pandemic.

Culture Clash: Two scientists encounter terror while they are walking in the woods. 

Culture Audience: “In the Earth” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that are pretentiously abstract to cover up for a flimsy and repetitive plot.

Joel Fry and Hayley Squires in “In the Earth” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

It’s easy to see how “In the Earth” might be compared to the 1999 horror film “The Blair Witch Project,” because both movies are mainly about people possibly being trapped in the woods while an evil spirit might be on the loose. However, “In the Earth” is a much more incoherent film, with a lazy ending and too many scenes that drag monotonously with no scares. The movie has an over-reliance on strobe lights. It’s not terrifying. It’s annoying. Maybe the filmmakers thought the strobe lights would trick people into thinking that “In the Earth” was a good horror movie.

Written and directed by Ben Wheatley, “In the Earth” takes place in an unnamed part of England during an unnamed pandemic. There’s a very small number of people in the movie’s cast, so at least viewers won’t be confused by too many characters being in the film. What viewers will be confused by is why this pretentious and boring movie wastes a potentially good story concept on idiotic chase scenes and repetitive scenes that go nowhere.

“In the Earth” begins with Martin Lowery (played by Joel Fry) arriving at a place in a wooded area called Gantalow Lodge. He meets with a man named James (played by John Hollingworth), and they talk about an unseen doctor who’s handling lockdown procedures. It soon becomes apparent that the lodge is some kind of meeting place for scientists, although they don’t seem to be doing any real work. One of the first things that Martin says is that “Bristol took a bad hit after the third wave.”

Martin meets another scientist at the lodge named Alma (played by Ellora Torchia), who gives the impression that she’s all about work. Soon after they meet, Alma and Martin are in a room together when he sees some children’s illustrations of Parnag Fegg, a witch-resembling entity that’s part of local folklore. Parnag Fegg is described as “the spirit of the woods.”

Alma mentions that a few kids went missing in the 1970s. And because this is a horror movie, viewers are supposed to automatically think that Parnag Fegg could have had something to do with these disappearances. Or maybe it was the Blair Witch, because “In the Earth” rips off a lot of the same ideas as “The Blair Witch Project,” except for the “found footage” format.

After Martin gets a medical test to make sure that he’s not infected with the unnamed virus that’s plaguing the world, he finds out that he and Alma have to get some equipment from a scientist named Dr. Wendle, who used to be Martin’s boss. Martin isn’t too thrilled about it because he parted ways with Dr. Wendle on bad terms that he won’t talk about when Alma asks Martin why he no longer works with Dr. Wendle. Alma tells Martin that the only way they can get to Dr. Wendle’s place is to walk through the woods, and the trip will take two days. Of course it will take that long, because there has to be an illogical excuse for why this moronic movie is stretched into a tedious slog.

After all, the filmmakers don’t want Alma and Martin to drive to their destination because using a vehicle means that they would get there faster, and a vehicle would give them a better chance to escape when they inevitably get stuck in the woods. And whatever this “equipment” is, it must not be that large, because Alma has insisted that they have to walk to Dr. Wendle’s place, which means they’re not using a vehicle to bring the equipment back. Don’t expect “In the Earth” to answer basic questions that would make this movie more coherent.

And so, Alma and Martin, who are supposed to be intelligent scientists, start walking for a two-day trek in the woods with no camping equipment and no first-aid supplies. They also show no signs of bringing any phones or emergency communication equipment with them. And you know what that means in a badly written horror movie like this one: Someone’s going to get injured and they can’t call for help.

Whenever “In the Earth” can’t come up with anything clever or logical in the story, Alma and Martin pass out for unknown reasons and wake up to something that’s supposed to be horrifying. It isn’t long before this gimmick happens. Gunshots are heard, the strobe lights begin pulsing, and Alma screams. And the next thing you know, Martin wakes up and finds Alma unconscious. He’s able to revive her, but they discover that their shoes are missing. And only their shoes.

Alma and Martin act as if walking in the woods with no shoes is just a minor pesky problem that won’t interrupt their schedule to get to Dr. Wendle’s place. And sure enough, Martin gets injured when he steps on something sharp that gives him a big, bloody gash on his left foot. Because Martin and Alma were too dimwitted to bring emergency medical supplies, they can’t properly treat Martin’s foot injury.

Another gimmick that the movie repeats on a very irritating loop is using any injuries that Martin gets (yes, there are more that happen later in the story) as excuses to have gross-out close-ups of these injuries. These close-ups are intended to make viewers squirm, but they aren’t really scary. They’re just bloody and gratuitous. When Martin’s foot gets infected, it’s easy to predict what will happen.

During their barefoot walk in the woods, Alma and Martin encounter a disheveled and dirty man, who gives the impression that he’s homeless, because when he first meets them, he’s relieved that Martin and Alma are not park rangers who will report him. This stranger introduces himself as Zach (played by Reece Sheersmith), and he notices that Alma and Martin aren’t wearing shoes and that Martin has an injured foot.

And so, Zach invites them to his makeshift camp site, where he says he has spare shoes they can wear. He also has medical supplies to treat Martin’s wound. But predictably, Zach isn’t such a friendly stranger after all. And the movie goes downhill from there in some nonsensical scenes involving torture, chases in the woods and bizarre photo shoots. Martin accumulates enough serious injuries that would leave a person in medical shock and incapacitated in real life, but there he is running around as if he’s only got a limp.

Dr. Olivia Wendle (played by Hayley Squires) is eventually seen in the movie. The mystery of Parnag Fegg comes in and out of the story like a story angle in search of a cohesive plot. But viewers shouldn’t expect major questions to be answered by the end of the film. “In the Earth” doesn’t even have suspenseful chase scenes, because every time a villain corners a victim or victims, nothing really happens except some talking and people passing out when the strobe lights start yet again.

Viewers won’t learn much about the characters in the film and certainly won’t care much about them either. All of the actors in the cast are quite dull in their roles, although Torchia makes an effort to bring some emotional depth to her Alma character. It’s not saying much, because all of the characters in the film are hollow, with no backstories or memorable personalities.

The production design, cinematography and editing for “In the Earth” look like a poorly thought-out student film. It’s as if the filmmakers decided to throw in some strobe lights and psychedelic fever dream imagery all over the movie to try to pass it off as artistic horror cinema. There is absolutely nothing scary about this movie.

And worst of all, “In the Earth” has such an obnoxiously inflated tone of self-importance that it tries to fool viewers into thinking that they aren’t smart enough if they’re confused by anything in the movie. The ending is actually quite anti-climactic, and any explanation of what’s going on is badly filmed. “In the Earth” isn’t too smart for most people to understand. The reality is that it’s just a pointless movie that cares more about bombarding people with strobe lights than telling a good story.

Neon released “In the Earth” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2021.

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