Ben Weatley’s In the Earth takes a swing at low-budget horror that doesn’t quite deliver.

In the Earth begins with a pandemic backdrop as Martin (Joel Fry) sets off into the woods on some kind of scientific mission alongside Alma (Ellora Torchia). What they’re actually going to be doing there is pretty vague. But the setup involves peppering in some kid drawings of monsters and a few reports of people who have gone missing. So it’s not the most exciting or informative opening, but it does build a pretty good sense of dread. After all, aren’t we all a little afraid of what might be lurking in the woods?

The setup and initial trek into the forest moves slowly. Not quite painfully so, but enough for you to realize this may not be exactly the kind of movie you envisioned. (The trailer implies action-packed, jump-scare type horror, when the reality is more slow-burn thriller.)

When Martin and Alma meet Zach (Reece Shearsmith), the action – and horror – really pick up. Zach’s offer to help the duo quickly reveals his true sinister motives. I won’t go too into detail here, because these scenes are by far the best in the film, conveying a solid sense of terror and dread for the unknown to come.

From there, things take a turn for the confusing – both visually and in terms of the plot. 

In the Earth is undoubtedly weird, which is fun and intriguing sometimes, but confusing and decidedly unscary just as often. (At one point, a character implies a powerful, unknowable force summoned Martin to the woods. Which would be pretty spooky, except they immediately provide “evidence” by pointing to Marin’s recent bout with ringworm. So folks, be warned: if you have ringworm and then later feel the urge to go on a jaunt through the woods, resist the temptation!)

Visually, the film uses a series of flashing lights and loud, high pitched sounds to disorient both the characters and the audience. The first time – and the first couple minutes – it happens, it’s an inventive way to immerse us in the horror happening on screen. 

The subsequent times, not so much. 

In the Earth - Alma on the ground, clutching her ears

By the time the final conclusion rolled around (which is an extended sequence of strobing lights and intentionally obnoxious sounds), I wasn’t feeling drawn into the horror anymore. I felt very much like I was watching a movie. And worse, a movie where someone had a pretentious “vision” – reinforced by the confusing turns of the plot, which seems to taut some kind of environmental message but never quite sells us on a perspective.

In the end, In the Earth delivered its best scares in the middle of the film, and was let down by a climax that left me way more confused and annoyed than scared.

In the Earth hits theaters Friday, April 30.