Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood play sisters working to survive after the world's lights go out.|
by John DeFore, published on September 17, 2015 - 9:16 AM PDT
Two sisters keep each other alive while the world goes to hell in Into the Forest, a survival picture by Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing) that, for a while, almost makes the end times look serene. Beautiful and sensitive to character but gripping when it needs to be, the pic is too grounded to be lumped into the apocalyptic genre bin, and stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood should ensure it attracts attention from moviegoers beyond that niche. Though set "in the near future" and offering quick glimpses of next-gen tech, nothing in the film would be different thirty years ago, and marketers would probably be wise to focus on two-handed drama over an irrelevant sci-fi label.
The two play sisters Nell (Page) and Eva (Wood), who live with their dad (Callum Keith Rennie) in an unspecified Pacific Northwest forest. Though they have friends in a nearby town (including Max Minghella's Eli, Nell's new boyfriend), both embrace sylvan isolation, at least for now — Nell studies hard for a school entrance exam; Eva rehearses in a glass-enclosed dance studio in hopes of joining a professional troupe.
Both those pastimes get more difficult when a massive power outage hits the nation, knocking out Nell's computer, quieting Eva's music, and leading to gas and grocery shortages in town. Within a week or so, it's clear that the smart thing to do is stay home and wait for normalcy to return. But even at home things are precarious, and the girls soon must get by without the help of their resourceful father.
Adapting a novel by Jean Hegland, Rozema checks in with her protagonists at intervals: By two months in, Eva has entered a depression; at six months, they have established a fruitful foraging routine; strangely, they don't seem to start hunting wildlife until they've been stranded for more than a year. The actresses inhabit a wholly believable sibling dynamic, with Eva needing more nurturing than her sister and only really drawing nourishment from her dance sessions — beautiful episodes of abstract movement choreographed by Crystal Pite. Page, watchful and worried, carries responsibility on her shoulders without bitterness.
The sisters' quiet and sometimes dreamy isolation is interrupted on occasion by outsiders. Inevitably, these encounters aren't always welcome, and Rozema maximizes the terrifying nature of one without exploiting her subject's trauma. When things begin to be unsustainable for the sisters — when the physical demands of protecting themselves are overshadowed by psychic ones — she presents them not as victims but as creators of their own path. Trusting each other without question, they carry home wherever they must go in hopes that the world will someday return to the level of sanity they themselves have preserved.
The Bottom Line: A high-caliber survival film focused on familial bonds over genre scares.