Into the Forest (2015, dir. Patricia Rozema)
It’s hard to pinpoint just where Into the Forest goes wrong, but at some point, I found myself completely disengaged with the film. It tells the story of two sisters, Nell and Eva, stranded at their family home in Northern California, about 32 miles from the closest town after an unexplained global event destroys the power grid and sends society into chaos. The two sisters struggle to survive when they end up without anyone but each other. Through a series of trials and challenges, they learn to let go of their reliance on technology and reconnect with the natural aspects of the forest around them.
There was so much to be excited about with Into the Forest. It tells the story of the apocalypse but from an isolated perspective. The characters are possibly a few steps ahead by being hidden away in a mountainous forest. It is very much from a feminist viewpoint, something you don’t get much in survival stories. You have the family dynamics that come with siblings that can lead to tension and drama. But somehow the film just flubs every single opportunity it has to make this an interesting story. The greatest error it makes is never generating the sense that these sisters are living on the edge of life and oblivion. There’s no sense of threats from the outside world except for one out of the nowhere moment that doesn’t gel with the rest of the picture.
The tone is a major problem throughout. The film doesn’t seem to have a sense of what type of story it wants to tell. Is this a bleak apocalyptic survival story? Is this a character drama set against the backdrop of societal collapse? Is this an art house drama about humanity and nature? It could have been all these things, but it just jumps around from moment to moment, mood to mood and never has much to say about anything.
The sisters, played by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are great actresses, but if this were the first film you saw them in you’d have a very different view of their abilities. The dialogue in the script is one of those on the nose, always telling but never showing kinds of things. It’s incredibly frustrating because I would have no qualms with a quiet, moody survival story. Instead, when the arguments break out both characters are so specific in what they say you have no sense of real relationship. If you think about real arguments between people who are close they talk around the real problems, they make personal attacks that they know will shred the other emotionally and then regret immediately what they said. You would think with a global story as stark and hopeless as the one playing out in the background; the desperation would be a little more apparent.
The realism of the peril these sisters face fails to be portrayed adequately. For me, I felt that lessened the tension of their survival. No one ever looks weakened or gaunt even though we’re shown their food supplies are dwindling. The film reminds us of how much time is passing, and by six months you would assume hair would be greasy, there would be a sense of dirt and filth. Nope, hair doesn’t even grow even though one character starts with shoulder length and by 18 months hasn’t seen an inch of growth. Those details, while maybe nitpicky, are crucial if the film wants us to be invested in the deterioration that comes with societal collapse. The film made the apocalypse feel mildly inconvenient.