Into The Forest (Movie Review)

Into The Forest (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: When a nationwide power outage sets humanity back a couple centuries, two sisters hole up in their secluded wooded home and learn to subsist off the land.

REVIEW: Following an eight year respite from the silver screen (KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL), nomadic Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema has struck newfound inspiration by wandering INTO THE FOREST - a grandly themed but intimately scaled sci-fi rumination on the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood. Adapted from, while skirting the most controversial aspect of, the popular Jean Hegland novel of the same name, the movie still grapples with weighty issues and ideas - both micro and macro, personal and social - that, despite its somber solemnity for most of its runtime, offers a much needed glimpse of humanistic hope in the end. While its size and scope may not stir quite the intended ripple, while its statement may not reverberate as loudly as it wants, the stark subject matter and deeply dedicated performances by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are more than compelling enough to warrant a look. After-all, it's summer...what better time to leave society behind and head INTO THE FOREST!?

Nell and Eva (Page and Wood) are a pair of relatively close twenty-something sisters who live with their single father (Callum Keith Rennie) in an isolated high-tech home nestled deep in the woods. Solar panels, voice-automated lights, etc. Nell's a bit hale, readying for her SATs that are soon to come, while Eva is a classically trained dancer who uses her body as a physical instrument of expression. As the three try to keep the family unit intact in the wake of the mother falling fatally ill, a mysterious nationwide power outage soon turns their cozily remote world into a life of tumult and turmoil. Rampant theories proliferate as to how and why the power went out, but the fact remains - the threesome is forced to live without water, electricity, and an ever waning supply of looted food, gas and groceries. Worse yet, after a harrowing chainsaw accident, the two gals are left by their lonesome to adapt to their dire consequences, love and look after one another and, despite the erosion of law and order, protect each other's needs. Nell's budding boyfriend Eli (Max Minghella) complicates matters, pulling Nell in the opposite direction of her sister, claiming that the city of Boston has withstood the power outage. Nell wants to go, Eva doesn't. But can the former really shatter familial bonds and leave her sister behind in pursuit of a better life?

Hardly. Heeding the dying words of advice from her father, Nell decides to side with her kin. And following a fascinating stretch where the two gals learn to live off the land...forging for edible berries, hauling well-water, rationing resources, living by candlelight, etc...their dire post-apocalyptic way of life grows even more soul and spirit crushing. Fans of the book will know well and good what odious action referred is to, one that induces the more controversial elements of the story, only half of which make it to the finished film. What we can say, without spoiling too much, is that an unscrupulous supermarket employee named Stan (Michael Eklund) sexually accosts Eva while Nell is out collecting berries one day. Profound measures are then taken on behalf of a woman's right to choose, however glancingly, which in turn reinforce the impenetrable bonds of flesh and blood. What Eva decides to do in the wake of being viciously assaulted comes to be understandable, especially given the alternative and the limited resources available. No doctors, no medical apparatuses, nothing. It's therefore Nell's loving support of her sister that bolsters the spiritual outlook of both.

Why Rozema felt the need to omit the extenuating story-line - the controversial incest subplot - is likely a commercial consideration, and one that is not only bound to alienate faithful fans of the book, but somewhat saps the strength of the movie...the crux of the bond these two sisters share. To concede that element of the story is too weaken said bond, which tends to mollify the impact in the film what the book is no doubt remembered for. It's as if Rozema thought the pro-choice aspect of the story would be polemic enough to exclude the even more taboo subject matter. The result is an inherently shallower exploration of an unknowable love between two sisters facing unthinkable circumstances. Yet, while ultimately unfaithful to the novel, while not quite plumbed to the depths of its origin story, the overall acting and direction here is still given with enough heartfelt commitment to make it all worthwhile. Aside from a few emotionally overwrought deliveries from Ellen Page, it's precisely the acting in a movie like this that carries the day. Evan Wood particularly shines, as always, here playing a strong-willed character who refuses to allow her victimhood to define her and her life moving forward. And with a movie of such intimacy like this, the chemistry between the two actresses must palpably vibe in order to remain believable. Thanks to some good casting, it most definitely does.

So, despite potentially disappointing fans of the book through its truncated page-to-screen adaptation - inherently rendering the story far slighter than originally intended - INTO THE FOREST still manages to pitch the right timbre. It's a small movie about big themes, a granular examination at the strengths of sisterhood against the backdrop of a global doomsday dystopia. Aside from a few dour notes and overly austere moments from Page, the acting here makes it all feel lived in, credible and ultimately valuable enough to occupy 100 minutes of your time. It's a movie that, in the end, reinforces the hopeful spirit of humanity through the unflinching choices made by the characters, and even in the face of swirling chaos, tends to triumph anyway. Fans of these actors, fans of dystopic sci-fi, cautious fans of the book, take the plunge and trek INTO THE FOREST when it hits limited theaters July 29th.

Extra Tidbit: INTO THE FOREST hits limited theaters July 29th.
Source: AITH



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