Director: Patricia Rozema
Writer: Patricia Rozema
Stars: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella
Into the Forest is perhaps the prime example of a popular sci-fi, post apocalyptic genre getting an “art house” treatment. Popular culture, overall, has evolved into a blending of perceived high brow entertainment repackaged into a mass marketed product, sometimes with mixed results. Take the Christopher Nolan Batman franchise, pitting an indie director beloved for Memento and rising, like his Dark Knight, to A-list director thanks to the very palatable caped crusader. But then there’s Zack Snyder, steering a ship that still needs building, merging complex and sophisticated themes with superheroes to mixed results. High brow meets low brow, and the reception has its own highs and lows.
But Horror is different. Whether we’re looking at this year’s release of The Witch, Michael Haneke’s dark and satirical commentary in Funny Games, or Danny Boyle’s redefining 2002 zombie tale 28 Days Later, audiences seem to be open to a methodical and nuanced approach to an otherwise B-genre. (That’s not to say we don’t love our B-horror flick.) Into the Forest is the latest merging of high meets low, exemplified foremost by writer and director Patricia Rozema (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, Mansfield Park). This artistic endeavor is not only methodical but striking in its peril and beauty.
Starring Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page as sisters Eva and Nell, respectively, Into the Forest is set in the not-too-distant future, evidenced by Nell’s translucent smart phone and Siri-eat-your-heart-out crystal TV. Nevertheless, Eva and Nell reside in their father’s home, a reclusive modern dwelling snug somewhere in the forest (and, of course, perfectly situated far from the nearest town). All is well in this abode until the power mysteriously cuts, not uncommon for the remote location. But the hours turn into days, then weeks, and the solar-powered radio stops broadcasting after reports the entire country is in the dark. That’s where things begin to escalate.
Such a familiar premise borderlines on cliché, but Rozema manages to take the familiar and slow it down. Violence is minimal, but when it arises near the end of the first act and again later, it is difficult to see who is more traumatized: Us or our sisters on screen? Nevermore has the bond between two sisters mattered in an unfathomable scenario where the trust of strangers is as black as the night, and the elements of rain, cold, and heat turn an upper middle class home into a survival shelter.
Eva, who dreams of being a dancer, must rethink her purpose in life. As the elder sister, she has thought only of herself, ignoring the younger Nell, who was, until the blackout, worried only about the SATs and her boyfriend. With only each other and an unwritten future, Eva and Nell teach us that the inevitable does not have to be Mad Max where loving thy neighbor is reduced to eating thy neighbor. Their bond is a sign of a hope when the pressures and expectations of society relieve them of their daily machinations, and their new purpose is to work with each other and discover a love that neither of them knew ever existed.