What does a filmmaker do during a pandemic? For someone like Mike Leigh, whose work is built around improvisation and close collaboration, and who planned to start a new film last summer, all projects have been placed on hold. “It’s in the nature of what I do; social distancing and all the rest of it, I can’t make a film that way,” he said in a recent interview with Slate.
Others saw the opportunity to make something quickly and cheaply, with mixed results. Doug Liman sent Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor on a Covid-enabled London heist in Locked Down, a film that was shot in 18 days and released digitally to widespread shrugs at the start of 2021. Ben Wheatley is an old hand at shooting on the fly, so it should come as no surprise that he kept himself busy with horror movie In the Earth, which was written and shot in just over two weeks.
What unites these films is the fact that their expedited schedules and small productions allowed them to engage directly with current events: Locked Down was shot on the capital’s deserted streets and satirised unhappy couples forced to stick together under lockdown, while In the Earth evoked the anxiety and paranoia of the moment with its story of scientists seeking a cure for a raging virus. Even if these films don’t ultimately secure exalted positions in either director’s filmography, they may have value as artefacts of the strange times we lived through.