Into the Forest (2015) Review

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Director: Patricia Rozema

Writer: Patricia Rozema (based on a novel by Jean Hegland)

Cast: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Callum Keith Rennie, Michael Eklund

I have been a fan of Ellen Page for some time. I loved her work in films like Juno, The East, Hard Candy, Super and, in a more well-known role, as Kitty Pride in a few of the X-Men movies. She is an actress whose mere name on a film is enough for me to watch, and that’s what drew me in to Into the Forest, which I hadn’t heard much about at all upon seeing it.

Directed by Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park), who also writes here, Into the Forest tells the story of two sisters, Eva and Nell. They are spending some time with their father in an isolated home in the woods and as they are staying there, Eva practicing dance and Nell studying for an exam, the power goes out and they find themselves stranded. It isn’t long before Eva and Nell must fend for themselves and attempt to understand what has happened to the world.

I count myself as a lover of post-apocalyptic stories, be it a novel or a film, and so I was immediately intrigued here and the rural setting and low-key vibe was up my alley. The slow pace continues right through the movie and while some might not like the lack of action I find that it often results in more relatable goings-on and brings about a feeling of discomfort due to realism. It is easier to place yourself into a situation in which there aren’t too many fantasy ideas going on, and while I love horror, sci-fi and fantasy, I do like when an end-of-the-world tale can take this kind of approach. There is a place for all kinds of styles, so I was ready for a drama based around a sci-fi concept. Done well, that can be captivating and brilliant.

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The location is really nice, and the cast do a very nice job and providing a feeling of closeness while also showing elements of fear and sadness as things happen. Wood and Page initially don’t seem to have the chemistry of sisters but that improves in time and the lack of chemistry could be partly because of the characters themselves and the things they are going through emotionally. The scenes in which we see the two of them react to what is happening and try to figure out what to do next are fine, and build the characters quite well. There is a turn that the story takes about an hour in that cause things to go off-track and take a disturbing turn. Many films in which we follow the human responses to the world ending mention certain things, behaviours and reactions that aren’t necessarily shown but instead hinted at. Here, though, we witness a scene, though not graphic particularly, that is still very uncomfortable. I won’t go further into it, but I found the scene hard going and pretty unneeded. I think the message of what happened could have been more creatively implied. The decisions of Eva and Nell up until that point had been normal and not exactly wrong, but in an unpredictable world where things are breaking down, I don’t think the best course of action is to wander around alone.

The first half of this film is a calmer but interesting take on two sisters dealing with a possible catastrophe. I personally quite enjoyed that part of it, though from my reading of many people’s opinions on the film since I watched it I can see that I am perhaps in a minority. I didn’t exactly like where the movie went though, and the road it took was one that wasn’t really handled in the correct way. The sisters make decisions that are peculiar and dense. We don’t get answers here either, which I can accept sometimes, but here it felt like there were many instances where we should have been given some sort of idea of why the power outage occurred, or why the girls were making the decisions they were making beyond random knee-jerk reactions. There’s also a scene in here that vegans will really not like.

A film of two halves, it feels to me like a clash of ideas, though I don’t think it is. I just didn’t enjoy the road it took as it proceeded. Page, Wood and the remainder of the cast are very good though, so that’s something. It’s a confused film, and one I think could have been much better. I don’t know anything about the novel, so I am unsure, to be honest, if it is loyal to that material, but either way I think this is a sure-fire decision-splitter. Some will perhaps enjoy this, but many won’t. I am somewhere in the middle.

2.5 out of 5

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