Saturday 3 November 2018

Movie Review: Into The Forest (2015)

A survival drama with suspense elements, Into The Forest explores the bond between two sisters as the world seems to plunge into catastrophe.

In the near future, teenaged sisters Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) are spending some time at their remote cottage in the west coast woods with their widowed father Robert (Callum Keith Rennie). Nell is studying for her SAT exams and pursuing a relationship with Eli (Max Minghella). Eva is practicing hard for a dance audition.

A power outage affects the area, and seems to be part of a much larger national technological failure. Communications are cut off, and the family has to make do without electricity or internet and limited gas for their car. A trip into town reveals people on edge, including supermarket clerk Stan (Michael Eklund), and mostly empty shelves, although Nell reconnects with Eli. Back at the cabin Robert has a bad accident, forcing Nell and Eva to face the sustained crisis on their own.

Written and directed by Patricia Rozema, Into The Forest is interested in people and a sense of place rather than a galloping plot. And Rozema is relatively successful, creating an emphasis on two typical sisters, generally adept at getting along but never too far from sulks and petty arguments.

The power outage and loss of all communications is the baseline premise to test Nell and Eva, and the film leaves the context at that. No explanations are provided, neither about the why nor the what next. Something big has gone wrong, really wrong, and in a world wholly dependent on technology, the sudden loss of all power effectively stops routine life in its tracks. No music to practice dance, no internet to study for exams, no functional phones, radios, televisions or refrigerators.

Old fashioned books reclaim their status as the most advanced form of technology, and as food runs out and the sisters resort to foraging and then hunting, textbooks explaining the natural world become essential survival tools.

Gas for the car and the generator becomes the most precious commodity, and understandably a spark for serious disagreements between Nell and Eva. They are not only dealing with a changed world, but also grief due to parental loss. They only have each other, and take turns testing and then strengthening their bond.

Although a couple of episodes of shocking violence punctuate the film, the sense of suspense comes not so much from impending jump scares but rather the creeping sense that all the old rules have been swept aside and the world is a different place. The cottage is isolated and nestled in nature, and Into The Forest works its way towards comfort in seclusion and a return to basics. Other people, freed from societal norms, may now be the biggest threat.

Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood develop a warm affinity and are quickly credible as sisters. The film rides on their shoulders, and they both rise up to deliver layered performances, stitching the inherent independence of young women with the essential need to work together to survive.

Into The Forest does not search for answers, but does find the human spirit, throbbing amidst the rubble of modern society.

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