The watching of an A24 distributed movie via Amazon Instant Video is becoming a weekly occurrence. After watching Into the Forest last year and not writing about it, I figured I would watch it again and poorly write down my thoughts.
Based on the Jean Hegland novel of the same name, Into the Forest was written and directed by experienced director Patricia Rozema (I haven’t seen any of her other works). It is a small scale post-apocalyptic movie that takes place in the near future in the pacific northwest. An unexplained power outage left the world in disarray and two sisters struggle to survive on their own.
Ellen Page (Hard Candy, Juno, Inception, Super) and Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) star in the movie playing sisters named Nell and Eva respectively. Their father Robert is played by Callum Keith Rennie.
The father and two daughters reside in a secluded home in the woods far away from town. Ellen Page plays the dorky and witty high school 11th or 12 grader (she is 28 years old when the movie was released) who is stressed from studying for a big test and the emotions of liking a guy from town. Evan Rachel Wood plays the emotional older sister (she is younger than Ellen page in real life) who is focused on learning a new dance routine making up for time lost after a knee injury. Callum Keith Rennie plays the lovable and supporting father who is successful at keeping the family together after the untimely death of his wife and mother of his children.
This is a simple movie that only spans a few set locations and relies on the characters to drive the plot. The relationship between the two sisters is genuine as they struggle to live in the new world which forces them to face their differences and support each other through tough times.
I enjoy these simply plot movies as they bring out great writing and characters rather than elaborate set pieces and audience tested corporate bullshit. But if the characters are unlikable then the movie doesn’t have a lot of safety nets to maintain the enjoyment.
I didn’t hate this movie, I am just indifferent about it. The sisters are real and fleshed out characters but I don’t find them sympathetic or relatable. Much of the drama between the two can be tied back to the insecurities that they have about their individual relationships with their mother and that they have very different personalities. Despite their differences, sisters stick together, an idea I can’t full appreciate as I am a guy.
This is another A24-esque movie that is a little different from the gritty man driven stories they have distributed, but still worth watching. Discussion involving spoilers ahead.
Into the Forest
The relationship between Nell and Eva is the main element of Into the Forest. After their father dies in a chainsaw accident, they are forced to survive on their own, together.
Nell is the more logical thinking sister focusing on conserving resources and thinking practically. Eva is the more emotional sister who would rather use precious gas to run a generator to watch old family movies than save it for an emergency. These two contrasting personalities collide is several annoying situations.
I don’t like the character of Eva. She consistently threw the “I am more like our mom than you” into arguments with Nell hitting her with a cheap shot. Her irrational anger towards Nell for not allowing her to use the gas to run the generator to watch old family movies led to a week long silent treatment. That whole disagreement made no sense to me and the reaction from Eva made me hate her.
After being raped by Stan, the grocery store guy, Eva became pregnant. Instead of doing the rational thing and aborting the fetus (which Nell initially wanted to do) Eva decided to keep the baby. Keeping the baby and having an infant to take care of is far from ideal in their situation. Eva even stated such earlier in the movie when Nell’s boyfriend stopped by, telling Nell not to get pregnant (I understand one was consensual and the other was rape, I am just thinking in practical terms).
Nell had her moments of “what the fuck are you doing?” as well. Eli, her boyfriend walked to their home from town and recruited Nell to come with him to Boston. A cross continental trip on foot which would last through the winter. Instead of telling Eli that the plan was stupid, Nell joined him, leaving her sister by herself. Nell eventually came to her senses and went back to her sister after just one night, but why did she leave in the first place? It felt out of character for her to do something so illogical.
Most of the problems stemmed from Nell. She didn’t cause the power outage, but she did leave the back hatch of the Jeep open killing the battery. This prevented the family from going into town and getting supplies before they were ransacked. Their father Robert took apart his chainsaw and used some ingenuity to hook the belt up to the battery to get it started. The same chainsaw that fell apart (probably wasn’t put back together properly) when he was using it which caused his death.
Even after weeks into the power outage when it was pretty clear society was done for, Nell continued to study for her test and Eva continued to dance for her recital. It took time for them both to accept the fact that life was going to be different and hanging onto their old life would only make things more difficult (which was symbolized by them at the end of the movie burning down their home and moving into the wilderness).
Why did the roof of the home collapse and fall apart so quickly? Did it need to be repaired before the apocalypse? After just a year the roof on the home caved in.
What time period did this movie take place in? The opening scenes which shows Robert watching a futuristic TV and reading from a futuristic piece of glass would suggest it takes place about 5 or 10 years into the future. The computer and voice activated lights used by Nell would suggest the same thing. But later in the movie when Eva is trying to justify living in the wilderness, she asks Nell how long humans have been on the planet. Nell responded with around 200,000 years. Eva then asked how long has electricity been around. Nell responded with around 140 years. Thomas Edison created the long-lasting electric light bulb in 1879. Based on Nell’s answer that means the movie takes place around 2010 so what was up with the fancy futuristic technology at the beginning?
I understood the symbolic need to burn down the house. It represented the sisters letting go of their old life and accepting their new one. But they wasted so many resources doing so. The gas could be used for countless things and the home was falling apart, but the wood, glass, and other building materials would have been perfect for a new shelter, something they did not have other than a little shack on the property.
Into the Forest isn’t great, but it is respectable and explores interesting ideas in a well-directed appealing manner.