by Anna Klassen, published on June 30, 2016|
When I sat down to watch Into the Forest, the post-apocalyptic film starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, I knew a certain scene was coming. Spoilers ahead. The film is rated R for a scene of rape. Because of this specific scene, and as the lights dimmed in the screening room, I was already holding my breath. When Wood's character Eva is ambushed while chopping wood outside of her secluded family home, it was more gut-wrenching than I anticipated. Instead of showing the man on top of her, the camera focuses solely on Eva's face as she screams and cries for help. It isn't exploitative, and it's extremely disturbing. When I sit down with Wood in Beverly Hills — her makeup-less face (save a streak of pink eye shadow over each lid) and casually crisscrossed legs easing me into a comfortable conversation — she assures me the cropped camera angle in that scene is entirely intentional: "We don't show what's happening. We show the pain on her face," Wood says.
Into the Forest surrounds two sisters (Wood and Page) trying to survive alone in their secluded, forested home in a world without power. They have no gas, no phones, no way to contact anyone. They are getting by, but when Eva is raped, they realize the severity of their circumstance and vulnerability.
According to the 28-year-old, the scene was filmed in one take and she burst all the capillaries around her eyes from screaming. Though Page wasn't in the scene, Wood asked her to be nearby so she could have someone to hug after filming the draining scene. "There’s really no way to prepare. The whole week leading up to it I was filled with so much dread. It's my job to convince myself this is happening, and there will be a man on top of me, and it will be traumatic," she says. "There’s even a moment in that scene where you just see Eva slip away, because that’s what happens in those situations. You have to leave your body. Your body can't handle it, and you just disappear."
The remainder of the film deals with the aftermath of Eva's rape. She becomes closed off to her sister (Page), she won't eat, she is terrified her predator will return, and she won't step outside of the house. "There's something a lot of people don't recognize. They think [rape] is not that big of a deal. They go, 'Oh, well you’re not dead, and it was only 15 minutes of physical torture, and you get over it.' But it’s not just the physical part. The physical part — that’s the easy part. It’s what it does to your soul. It's a life long journey. This 15 minutes happens, and it’s a lifetime of pain, and you have to try to trust people again, and to reclaim your body."
As she speaks about the aftermath of an attack — leaning in closer on the couch to drive her points home — I'm reminded of Brock Turner, the Stanford student who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus and received a very short six month jail sentence for his crime, when according to state law, his crime warranted up to 14 years behind bars. His father deemed this punishment too severe, and wrote a letter to the judge, arguing that his son shouldn't receive punishment for "20 minutes of action." When I bring up this controversy to Wood, she offers a serious, knowing nod.
"It's another reminder of people thinking it's not a big deal," she says, and I agree. So I ask her: "How do we tangibly measure mental scarring, the aftermath of rape, within the justice system?"
"Exactly," she says. "Trust is an essential element to our humanity and the connections that we make with people. Once that trust is broken... how do you go on? How do you connect? How do you allow yourself to be loved? And the worst part is if those things are not dealt with in the proper way, and the trauma is not dealt with, it can ruin your entire life. It can ruin your children’s lives, your children's children's lives. It’s an endless cycle."
What Wood is saying, and what Turner's father doesn't seem to understand, is that a crime like rape leaves ramifications that last beyond the physical "20 minute" act of sexual assault. She continues: "So it's just mind boggling when people don’t understand what it does to a person. Yes you’re still alive, but you’re not intact as a human being. It takes a very long time, and therapy. Some people don’t even have the means to get that help."
Performing the jarring scene in Into the Forest has inspired Wood to speak up about the issue. "After filming the scene, I told everyone on set, 'Don’t be afraid to speak up, and to keep this from happening.' Not because we could be your sister, or your mother, or your daughter, but because we’re people. It’s not because of how we relate to you, but because we are human, and no none should be treated that way."
Throughout our conversation, Wood wants to make one thing very clear: "Women are strong," she says. "But I wouldn’t say we are fearless. We’re filled with fear, we just [power] through anyway." But according to the mother of one, women need support — from other women, from men, from the media, and from the justice system. "It's a big deal," she reiterates.
At the end of our interview, I apologize for diving so deep, so quickly. After a hearty laugh — we are both in need of a moment of levity — she shakes her head. "These things will not be taken in vain if we can make a change and show people the reality of it," she says. "Thank you."
With celebrities like Wood speaking up, and films like Into the Forest offering an honest look at sexual assault and its intense ramifications, perhaps the conversation surrounding unfair treatment of victims will become so loud, even Brock Turner's pleading father can't turn a deaf ear.
Into the Forest hits theaters on July 29, and is available on DirecTV now.