Based on Jean Hegland’s novel of the same name, “Into the Forest” sets out to tell a slightly futuristic parable, but loses focus along the way.
The story takes place only slightly ahead of modern time. Computers and some technology are clearly more advanced, yet solar power is still unreliable and vehicles depend on fossil fuels. Nell(Ellen Page) & Eva(Evan Rachel Wood) are sisters, living in the woodlands somewhere along the Eastern coast with their widowed father (Callum Rennie) One evening, without warning, the local power grid goes down. At first it seems like any other temporary power failure, but soon they learn the problem has become even more widespread. Within a week, even news radio broadcasts have gone off the air. When they are able to visit the nearest town for supplies, it quickly becomes apparent how dire the situation has become. All the gas stations are out of fuel, and most stores have been cleared out. An ominous cloud hangs over every interaction with others. As one character notes, it takes a crisis to reveal a person’s character.
Life goes on like this for a while, but the sisters take it in stride, planning their futures as if the power could be flicked back on at any time. Unfortunately a tragic accident sets events into motion that forces them to start down the path of self reliance. This journey of self-reliance, and turning away from the modern conveniences that some feel cripple our society, is one of the major themes of the book. This theme is implied here, along with touches of gender inequality allegories, but sadly these themes exist like a thin fog within the story, and never fully solidify.
To say these themes aren’t fully explored does not mean this is a poor film, in fact it’s very well crafted. Instead it only means the true depth of the book and contrasting opening and ending shots might go unappreciated. Completely understanding what the story is trying to convey will go a long ways towards the ending being viewed as complete, or ambiguous open ended.
Director and Screenwriter Patricia Rozema really does a masterful job of setting up this story and tapping into some of our core fears in the first act. Tension is quickly grown by plucking at worries many of us have resting on the edge our subconscious. Nell and Eva occasionally spar in battles of logic versus emotion, again a reflection of the conflict we often deal with internally.
“Into the Forest” is a “good” film, yet thematic undercurrents hint at an even better film in a manner that leaves you feeling slightly disappointed.