Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Into the Forest

Into the Forest is a Canadian indie film written and directed by Patricia Rozema, based on the novel by Jean Hegland. It stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as Nell and Eva, two sisters (in their twenties) living with their father in a rundown house in the woods (in New England somewhere, though it’s filmed in BC) when the electricity suddenly goes out all over North America. In just a few short days, there are no more groceries and gas to be found, followed shortly by the loss of the internet and radio. They have food and water to last a few months, but what if this power outage lasts longer than that? How will they (and everyone else) survive?

This scenario feels all too plausible. By focusing exclusively on how the two sisters cope with the crises they encounter and try to think beyond just survival to also thriving, Into the Forest creates an intense, almost horror-like, atmosphere that made me feel like I was right there in the house with the two women. That kind of engagement is all too rare for me and is always appreciated, even if I had trouble breathing at times. With excellent performances from Page and Wood, a solid screenplay that’s faithful to the novel and provides strong character development, and the occasional use of haunting music, Into the Forest worked for me. 

It didn’t work for some of the critics, however. They wanted the film to go beyond the lives of the two young women. I think that misses the point of the novel/film and would have watered-down the kind of intense engagement I just mentioned. I would argue with those critics (all of whom are male) that this inspiring and haunting film about embracing life should be viewed as the rare privilege of having a film made almost exclusively by women and almost exclusively about women (there are three men in minor roles). This gives us an opportunity to think about whether and how the story would play out differently if it was made by men, and I think the negative male critics may provide some answers. Watching the film with two women allowed me to discover some immediate differences in our reaction to the film which I found very intriguing (e.g. I thought the film was darker and scarier than they did). Into the Forest gets ***+. My mug is up.

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