Synopsis: Two sisters (Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood) struggle to survive in a remote country house after a continent-wide power outage, in this gripping apocalyptic drama from director Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park, I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing).
Into the Forest 7.75
eyelights: the strength of the main cast. the concept. the setting.
eyesores: its absurd finale.
Can you imagine being out of power for a whole day, with our homes and lives dependent on technology as they are? And what if it affected not just you, or your neighbours, but everyone in your city as well? What if it lasted a whole week? And what if it lasted a whole month? Or what if it lasted well over a year and affected most of your country?
What do you think would happen then?
And how would you cope?
Such is the basic premise of ‘Into the Forest’, a 2015 motion picture by Patricia Rozema (of ‘I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing’ and ‘When Night is Falling’ fame). Based on the dystopic novel by Jean Hegland, it tells the story of two sisters surviving in their high-tech family cottage after a mysterious power shutdown blacks out the United States.
I really liked the premise that everything shuts down but no one knows what’s going on because communication is now impossible; without power there’s no internet or television, and even radio broadcasts go silent after a short while. And, after a few days, there’s very little fuel left (as gas stations go dry), and store shelves are nearly empty.
Basically, the girls are now isolated and have to fend for themselves.
Alone in the forest.
Of course, it’s not to say that it would necessarily have been better in town, with so many more people fighting over the same limited resources. At least their dad had the foresight of planning for emergencies: they had reserve gas, a power generator, a back-up car battery, …etc. But they had to use these things in moderation, strictly if necessary.
And, although their sprawling home is absolutely beautiful, being all hardwood and glass, it’s also a technological wonder – so almost nothing worked anymore; they couldn’t even get running water. And, making matters worse, its large floor-to-ceiling windows left them very vulnerable – easily seen by and accessible to potential home invaders.
No matter how prepared they were, nothing would prepare them for 18 months without power – 18 months and counting.
The main cast is superb:
- Ellen Page is excellent, as per usual, and I really liked her character: Nell is smart and solid most of the way through, maintaining her focus and composure and usually thinking about their survival in the longterm. She weakens a little when her boyfriend is part of the picture, but that’s really just a small blip on the radar; the rest of the time she’s the backbone of the duo.
- Evan Rachel Wood is also quite good as Eva, although she initially has less substantial material to work with: Eva mostly practiced for a dance competition. Although that alone was impressive, Wood has developed into a really strong actress. Honestly, I didn’t recognize her at first, but when it dawned on me that it was her, I was impressed by how long she’s come since her early days.
- Callum Keith Rennie plays Robert, Nell and Eva’s dad. He doesn’t get that much screentime, but he’s just amazing in the time he’s on: Robert is smart, self-reliant, thinks ahead, and is able to stay positive. He’s quite a great character and Rennie is perfect in the part. I loved how he got a brilliant idea to start the truck one morning, having not thought about it before; he just made the sign of screwing in a lightbulb and went ahead. Nice.
I was thorough involved in this picture because it’s such a realistic and thought-provoking scenario, but there were some small hiccups along the way, like the fact that neither of the girls’ hair ever grew (did they trim it regularly to the same length?) and it took them far too long to search the house for useful items to start hunting for nourishment!
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
There were also a certain number of predictable moments that one can expect in this type of film or that were telegraphed well ahead of time, like Robert’s death, the rape, the pregnancy, …etc. And there were moments that were so obvious that they lacked their surprise factor, like when Nell is shooting a pig from up a tree and the blowback knocks her down.
But I was still on board
The picture only lost me in the moment that they decided to go for a walk when Eva is in labour. I mean, I already found the notion of going for a stroll around the house to get her mind off 5 hours of labour ludicrous, but it turned out that they had something else in mind: They decided to go venture into the woods, to a childhood hideout in a tree stump.
WTF? During labour?!
Then it got worse: later, the house had crumbled in parts and Eva decided that the only thing left for them to do was to burn it down (Um… what? Because destroying everything is always the best solution, naturally). Her best argument was that if anyone wanting to harm them saw that the house was burned down, they would think the girls were long gone or dead already.
Except that it doesn’t protect them from marauders on the road – they could be anywhere the sisters go.
In any case, they packed a whack load of things, enough to bring a large man to his knees, and Nell carried all their gear in one go to the tree stump hideout while the house burned down in the background. It ends with the girls setting camp in the forest, in the middle of the night no less, in much less safe conditions than before – as though this were a victory.
I chuckled my way through the absurdity of the moment. For some reason I couldn’t stop; I just couldn’t help it.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Ending aside, ‘Into the Forest’ is possibly Patricia Rozema’s most consistent and solid film. Yes, I prefer ‘When Night is Falling‘ and ‘White Room‘, but they had their mild flaws and strange quirks. Ending aside, this one doesn’t. In fact, if not for those unconvincing final 20 minutes, this would likely have been one of my favourite films this year.
It’s well-worth seeing.
Date of viewing: June 12, 2016