Contains minor spoilers.
A good long while ago I sat down late one night before the television. Blackened. Distorted reflection of me. I picked up the remote and surfed the channels. Same tired sitcoms. Info programs. DIY TV. Reality television. My medicine, I decided, would be a movie–my go to when I actually feel in the mood to watch something. I toured the DirecTV PPV catalogue and eventually decided to give Into the Forest, an upcoming film starring Ellen Page (Juno), and Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler), a go. It pulled ten dollars from my pocket and there I sat on my couch, rather than at some independent theater shoulder to shoulder with all the more serious types. The intent watchers. The ones studying its every angle, every scene for some other clue to its mysteries but most the great ones lack mystery. It is their plainness which enraptures us. As for the film, I would say the price was well worth the convenience. More than that, Into the Forest turned out to be a movie well worth my time. And I feel it would be well worth yours, too, avid reader.
The genre it is loosely bound to and the description that takes shape when trying to explain the film do it an injustice. Sci-Fi. Apocalyptic. Drama. All done to death. Burning planet. Zombies. Unimaginative horrors and superlative heroes. Big and grandiose and unsatisfying. Though the film holds those categorical truths, those truths do not describe the film and environment it cultivates in a fitting manner. It is science fiction in so much as it is not something which has happened in the modernized America. Yet. It is apocalyptic in how its characters navigate the world and situations placed before them. And it is dramatic because it is true to the fundamental components of human nature which ultimately define us. Our compassion and brutality. The great measures of each we simultaneously possess.
In undramatic fashion America loses power. There one moment, gone the next. This is the main premise– the thing the Author will engineer the characters around, the story. Ellen Page plays Nell, a soon to be student at Harvard. Her closest ally, her sister Eva, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is a ballet dancer. Yes, they belong to that kind of family. Ellen and Evan make the film work, simply put. Their onscreen chemistry and devotion to one another not only make them believable as sisters, but as selfless beings trying to navigate through a world reverting back to its more primitive form. Together with their father (Callum Keith Rennie–also excellent and charming, as dads often are), they live in a home out in the deep woods. Next nearest town hub, 30 miles out yonder. They are alone. Disconnected. In the book, they are home-schooled. I don’t recall if that was explored in the film.
With this distance and the challenges it provides, the family is well versed in the methods required to live off the land. To last. Gardening. Farming. Indeed, they can fend for themselves rather well. Then something happens. Out on a hunting trip, Father is attacked by a wild bore. Gored in the abdomen. The daughters find him in the woods but it is too late.
This is their world now.
Their solitude in the wild makes up the bulk of the story–their ingenuity, mental toughness, and willingness to adapt and survive. And as we watch all this, sometimes curious how they evolve so well, the thought occurs: our kind has done this again and again and again. The human body is enduring, our brains strong. Thoughtful. Genius. When faced with great danger, great challenge, we rise up. We create. So far we have not been bested. Everything has fallen in our wake. This is why we are here. You reading this rambling review. Me writing it on a machine with a couple different minds within its 1/4″ casing. It’s all brilliant. Human kind is brilliant, and though we are capable of great accomplishments, we are also capable of great horrors.
And the girls do face horrors. They are challenged in many ways. Mind. Soul. Body. Spirit. The writing is done well enough that no one scene feels overly dramatic nor preachy. This could easily come across as feminist movie. Not the kind that promotes the strength of the feminine but the weaknesses of man. It straddles a fine line and treads dangerously close, but fails to cross over it–to give the male audience a big middle finger.
Much of this is thanks to the directing. Every scene is done with attention yet carried out swiftly. I sometimes wish the director had dared to capture more. It needed some scope. Then again, the film is suppose to be intimate, so that want likely doesn’t hold much water. During the moments which could come across as heavy handed metaphors, we instead remain invested in the scene. In the tragedies the characters are enduring. It took many things to accomplish that: solid writing; tremendous acting; directing which didn’t try to be florid but instead practical.
Though the film slows a bit in the final third of the story, it is still a feat in many ways. It proves that genre film making is capable of great and profound messages. That it possesses the same artistic talents, if not greater, than the dramas which so often dominate discussion and awards. Genre stories have their place in art. As Mr. King said, they show the truth in the lie. Or something like that.
Give it a watch.