Film Review (VIFF 2015) | Into the Forest

Short on apocalypse, and heavy on drama, this is a literate, intimate spin on world-ending chaos.

Into The Forest

Rating 8.6/10

Running time: 101 mins.

Classification: None yet

Release Date: TBD

Country:Canada

IMDB/Rotten Tomatoes

Adapted from a novel by Jean Hegland, “Into The Forest” is a post-apocalyptic drama, written and directed by Canadian Patricia Rozema.  Beautifully shot in the forests around Vancouver, British Columbia, cinematographer Daniel Grant captures the raw majesty, and primal nature of life off the grid.  Or in this case, life with no grid.  Employing a sparse, electro-acoustic score from musical pioneer Max Richter, all of the elements combine here to produce a collective tale of despair, and ultimately perseverance.  A somber mood piece, the film should play well to art house and independent film crowds, with its literate, mature approach to global destruction. Imagine Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, if ‘Man’ and ‘Boy’ had stayed put, content to live out their days with only each other for company, and you have a glimpse of the tone here. There are no wandering zombies, roving bands of tongue-pierced hoodlums, or nuclear-meltdown afflicted wildlife roaming the forests here.

With a premise nearly identical to the short-lived NBC television show “Revolution”, this is a near-future version of what might happen if the world were to suddenly, and irrevocably, lose all electrical power. Where the tv show focused on armed militias, the collapse of life in the big cites, and a smattering of other campy, predictable sci-fi tropes, “Into the Forest” focuses on a single family, composed of two sisters, living with their dad in an isolated forest enclave, when the power goes out.  Reminiscent of the terrifying, and realistic, British film from the early 80’s, “Threads“, this is a day-to-day account of what might happen following an apocalyptic event of this magnitude.  With little glamour, or acts of otherworldly bravado, this is an intimate accounting of how everyday people cope without the conveniences of modern life.  It’s a film about seeing your food supplies slowly run out, not having running water to bathe from, and watching as your home slowly falls apart, decaying back into the forest it sprang from.

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Evan Rachel Wood, left, as Eva. Ellen Page as sister Nell.

Ellen Page, who sought the rights to the material after reading Hegland’s novel, plays Nell, the more outgoing, and effervescent, of the two sisters.  Evan Rachel Wood plays Eva, a passionate dancer, content to hole up in her home studio for days, obsessively practicing her craft.  Callum Keith Rennie rounds out the family as father Robert, living in a beautiful Frank Llloyd Wright inspired home, deep in the forest. It should be noted that there is a great cameo by veteran actor Michael Eklund, brilliant in this year’s VIFF film “Eadweard“, unrecognizable here as the creepy ‘Stan’, manager of the local supermarket.  Page is excellent as always, as is Rennie, but the real revelation of the film is Wood, undergoing a character arc that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.  As good as any performance of the past year, from her carefully-studied contemporary dance, to a gut wrenching, emotional journey of survival, Wood is unforgettable in the role.

Viscerally placing us in the sister’s world, without much explanation of what exactly has taken place, or the specifics behind it, this is experiential cinema at its best.  Intentionally leaving the viewer in the dark (often literally), with the loss of information being the first casualty of the catastrophe, we bear witness to their initial discomfort, leading to their eventual, desperate struggle for outright survival.  Insular and introspective throughout, the filmmakers want us to feel cut off from civilization, with the lack of information, and loss of community, being the main antagonists here.  We feel trapped, and alone, with Nell and Eva, vividly experiencing their tedium, hopelessness, and desolation, as it unfolds, with the narrative sometimes jumping ahead in time by weeks, or months, to compress the days of endless monotony.

What little context we do have of the small town nearby, and of the outside world in general, is handled with tangible, effective wariness by Rozema.  There is an inherent unease whenever Eva and Nell interact with townsfolk, even the ones they know.  It’s a tension that feels authentic to living without any societal boundaries.  We see the world through Nell, and Eva’s, vulnerable, female perspective, unsure who can be trusted when society has been stripped down to its bare, primal necessities.

“Into the Forest” is a somber, realistic effort, that contains equal parts hope, and despair, always grounded in an authenticity that never wavers from its Apocalyptic premise. Acting from the leads is impeccable, with both Wood and Page conveying the mutual bonds, and antagonisms, of siblings to perfection.  Cinematography is as lush as it is primitive. More than any apocalypse film in recent memory, this feels true to what life would be like if civilization collapsed; light on zombies, and heavy on finding clean water to drink.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
8.6
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