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End of the world scenarios make for truly compelling narratives in movies, with some notable greats in recent years, often posing some deeply metaphysical questions about our purpose and time on this fragile world. Our delicate balance with our place here drives many stories of survival, and with Into The Forest, the troubling truths of a possible demise bring together a deeply traumatic and emotional story that is supremely acted and intelligently presented.
Appropriately enough, we begin in the near future in a forest where sisters Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) live in an isolated home with their widowed father (Callum Keith Rennie), far from civilization. Nell is busy studying for exams while Eva rehearses for a dance competition. They are well off and well-fortified and live with the most modern conveniences. And so it is a minor issue when the power goes out and the generators doesn’t work. Not just to them, but the nearby town, and more. These things happen though and they assume that surely it will come back. It has too.
It doesn’t. The slow acceptance of that as they wait a few days doesn’t truly hit them until they get their car running and drive the long distance to town where they discover it’s much worse then they thought. People have evacuated, looting has started, and hints of anarchy have already begun to grip the remaining townspeople. Returning home with the last of the supplies they could muster, they choose to stick it out up in their forest home, expecting that soon enough the power will return. What they get instead is worse than what they are prepared for. Now its about survival and as starvation and illness linger, the end of Man becomes the story of two frightened women.
Directed by Patricia Rozema, based on the 1996 book of the same name written by Jean Hegland, Into The Forest isn’t about a post-apocalyptic fight again mutants, home invaders, or alien attack. This is a small story about personal consequences between two young women who are entirely different, forced to find common ground in a closed environment. When you don’t share the same interests or ideas, depending on each other to survive is tenuous at best, and when their dependence on their father’s resourcefulness is shockingly terminated, they must contend with a house that needs continuous maintenance, tend to a dwindling food supply, and be wary of a future where they must forage to live. But no matter the pains and hardships, they are sisters and that is the singular bind that ties.
All of this isn’t to say that there aren’t horrors awaiting these young women. When trivial arguments over whether to use a bit of reserve gas for an evening of power or eating the last last piece of chocolate seem impactful, they are but stepping stones to the real challenges that press upon their sheltered existence. The forest presents the only hope for life but also a home for encroaching danger.
Both Wood and Page are well cast, if not a bit old for the parts, but they quickly dispel any hesitation we might have about what and who they are. Page plays an earnest, hard-working student with a streak of rebellion while Wood is a touch older, desperately trying to start a dance career she is clearly too old to be chasing. These are painted as broad definitions of their personalities but help to establish how one will effect the other in the coming months, and while this initially creates the chasms that separate them, it soon helps build bridges to connect them.
Rozema keeps this reigned in from the start, never even teasing that this might be more epic in scale, always keeping this tightly within the small circle that is these two women. We never learn the cause of the disaster, and are given only cursory rumors for the truth, but the ambiguity of the event helps maintain the uncertainty, as the girls give up searching for why and shift to staying alive.
I won’t dare spoil any part of the third act, but suffice to say something happens that has tremendous effect on the girls, and leads to a denouement that will inspire a bevy of opinions that will ultimately make this harshly divisive. For me, it was intriguing and metaphoric, a challenging end to a story that has in so many other, been funneled to obvious endings. That is not the case here, and while the final images are disconcerting, there are deeper questions to be asked that no matter which side you take, will have you thinking long after it’s over.
Director: Patricia Rozema
Writers: Patricia Rozema, Jean Hegland (based on the novel by)
Stars: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella
Genre: Drama, Thriller