into_the_forest_2Year: 2016
Director(s): Patricia Rozema
Writer(s): Patricia Rozema, Jean Hegland
Region of Origin: US
Rating: R
Color, 101 mins

Synopsis: After a massive power outage, two sisters learn to survive on their own in their isolated woodland home. (Source)

In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine a world without technology. Cell phones and social media connect us to those thousands of miles away, we can learn about new cultures with the click of a button, and we can record and relive memories on a whim. Like anything, however, technology is a double-edged sword, enhancing our lives while promoting complacency in more ways than one. These ideas and their implications are what drive Patricia Rozema’s latest, Into The Forest. Adapted from a novel by Jean Heglund, the film imagines a global catastrophe which leaves the world without power, forcing two teenage sisters to rely on each other and the wilderness around them. Without shying away from the brutality of such a premise, Rozema illustrates a piercing portrait of sisterhood that transcends the grit and gloom, stripping the genre and human nature down to its very core. Using the minimalist plot to their advantage, Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood’s performances highlight both the depths of desperation and the blinding nature of hope.

Sometime in the near future, Eva (Rachel Evan Wood), her sister Nell (Ellen Page) and their father live out in a technologically advanced but secluded home in the woods. Eva devotes her time to dance rehearsals while Nell studies to further her education. Neither of them are prepared when an unexplained, possibly global power outage leaves them and the nearest town without any electricity. Thinking the power failure is temporary, the three carry on, living as if normalcy is just around the corner. After a freak accident takes the life of their father, however, the girls are left alone with dwindling resources and no indication that the world they once knew might ever return. In the wake of devastation, the two attempt to come to grips with each other and themselves, learning who they are when everything they once took for granted has been abruptly taken away.

Though there’s a lot that Rozema does well, her greatest achievement is a singularly feminine perspective that thrives without the help of supernatural elements, senseless action or any of the pervading doom that overtakes most films of this type. Whereas most apocalyptic thrillers are about the why, Rozema is more interested in the disorienting, desperate situation of these two sisters and their relationship with nature, as they’re left to fend for themselves. As their situation goes from days to months, the poetic script and patient pace take its characters to their end, allowing them to flourish while testing them in horrific ways. Rozema isn’t afraid to go dark, but its always in service to the unbreakable bond at the story’s core, earning some shocking tonal shifts that contrast bleak uncertainty with unexpected grace. Fittingly, Eva and Nell’s relationship has its peaks and valleys, arguing about resources, a potential love interest and the best course of action, but is ultimately not about being saved or a return to their past lives, but about how all they need is each other. It’s a refreshing perspective that confronts societal fears while celebrating female kinship and these characters’ ability to adapt and survive.

into_the_forest_3Carrying the film on their backs almost exclusively, Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood humanize the film’s dark implications and give it an unmistakably raw authenticity. As Nell, Page is unguarded and pragmatic. Page finds an uneasy balance in a character who is trying to look ahead, yet constantly tethered by the past. Page is at her best here, immersing us into her predicament and finding warmth amidst such a dark time. As Eva, Evan Rachel Wood is just as good, often a contrast to Page’s Nell. Wood brings a physicality to her performance, not just because her character is a dancer, but because a lot of what she conveys, she does without words. There’s a stoicism to her perseverance but also a fragility that just seeps to the surface. Both of these women transform throughout, taking turns comforting one another and finding the strength that the other lacks at any given moment. It’s through them we find a brave nuance and depth to compliment Rozema’s sensitive direction.

Into The Forest is a resonant story about rebirth and family, but through the guise of a post-apocalyptic thriller. Most of what we expect from the genre is here, but subverted and taken somewhere much more haunting and unexpected – in fact, its ideas only dig deeper with distance. Because of this, Rozema’s approach is bold and everything the genre needs, transcending it to present a story of humanity untouched by the noisy distractions of modern comfort, and held up by an unbreakable bond between two strong women who find themselves at the end of the world.

SG