Many of the strongest dramas are tightly focused stories of a single relationship. In the case of Into the Forest, it is a relationship between two sisters. In the not so distant future, a global power outage throws the world into chaos. Instead of examining the broad implications or showing a global perspective, the film focuses on Nel (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) living in a house deep in the woods with their father.
At first the film seems somewhat aimless and slow, but grows more engaging as we become intimately invested in the characters. Both Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood give some of the best performances of their careers. While I think Page carries somewhat more of the film’s weight, both actresses prove strong enough to carry a character focused drama. Despite the slow start, the film’s trajectory soon proves to be on the downward slide. This is definitely a “very bad things keep happening” movie. What it all is leading up to remains unclear until almost the very end of the film.
Director Patricia Rozema moves the film in a way that seems totally ambivalent to the audience. She is telling a story as she wants to tell it, or rather, bringing the novel by Jean Hegland to life in the way she imagined it. I want to be clear this doesn’t mean the movie is boring, just unconventional. Instead of sticking to a typical structure of rising action, climax and conclusion, the film feels more like a memoir of the two main characters. Events occur as they do in life, sometimes at random, sometimes as a result of other cascading events and actions. Nothing happens only to move the plot forward or force drama. The film builds at a steady pace, never stooping to manipulative tricks or melodrama. All of this adds up to a film best described as “natural”.
This perfectly complements the underlying themes of the film. As civilization crumbles, the sisters depend less and less on technology and more and more on nature. At the same time, their focus is shifting from their own selfish pursuits to the benefit of each other. By the end of the film, the sisters have been reduced nearly to a state of nature, but their relationship has grown stronger than it ever could have before their journey began.
Into the Forest is not for everyone, but for the patient viewer it is easy to recommend. The expert direction, powerful performances and unpredictable structure make this film a rewarding experience for those willing to give it a chance.