Last Thursday, I had the tremendous privilege of attending the Vancouver International Film Festival, where I was able to see an early screening of Into the Forest, the new Patricia Rozema film based on Jean Hegland’s novel of the same name. I also had the privilege of posting cheeky tweets about it throughout the day, but now that I have finally digested all of the incredible poutine I ate along the way, I’m ready for something a bit more long form. Let’s get reviewin’.
There is a crucial scene early on in Into the Forest that involves sisters Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) fighting over a 5-gallon canister of gasoline. With the power out for months and the world slowly descending into violence and chaos beyond their property, five gallons of gasoline means electricity, music, showers, TV, popcorn, and a brief foray back into civilization.
Eva wants to use the gas. Nell insists that it be saved for an emergency. But the question that looms behind this debate is, “What good is five gallons of gasoline going to do in the long run? How much can it stave off the inevitable?”
I liked this movie for its small moments, for the way it breaks the world and people down into little pieces. Lack of power is represented twofold in the argument over the gasoline. The devolving civilization beyond their borders is hinted at through rumors but never truly explored. The gorgeous cinematography unfolds the situation slowly, focusing on fingernails, chocolate candy, table corners, and edges before expanding out into the greater natural world. The sisters’ house and their relationship becomes a microcosm for examining the apocalypse on a larger scale. How do you survive with limited supplies? How do you continue to trust? How do you relearn to treat others well?
Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are outstanding in this film, portraying a deep bond while still making the strain of survival real and raw. Page’s Nell is tough, uncertain, and unwaveringly practical, while Wood’s Eva is passionate, animalistic, and deeply in tune with her own body. The camera work pulls no punches in couching both of their experiences in the the visceral. It allows them to have flawed complexions, chewed fingernails, bloody thighs, blistered palms. The life they build together is a tough, frightening, and dangerous one, but it is inspiring to watch them do it.
Into the Forest is not the first film to ponder what will happen if the structures of our society breach. In the years since CALYX published the novel back in 1996, we have become obsessed with post-apocalyptic stories. The Walking Dead, The Book of Eli, Mad Max, The Road, and many others are all dystopian accounts of the end of civilization. In most cases, their storylines have the same end goal: Rebuild society as well as you can. Try to return civilization to its previous safety and glory.
This is not the story of Into the Forest. Into the Forest is about learning how to live correctly. It looks critically at the way that Americans consume–mindlessly, constantly, and with no thought as to where their food or water or power comes from. I understand that Ellen Page has spoken before about how difficult it is to make a movie with two female stars, and I’m not surprised. Because this is not a traditional male take on the apocalypse. It’s not really about fighting or surrendering or leading or hoarding or any of the traditional themes. It’s about reconnecting with the way we used to live as a species, the way we used to have a symbiotic relationship with nature and each other. The film is quiet, measured, and firmly character-driven.
As someone who has read the book, I’ll be interested to hear about other people’s take on the movie. For me this was a supplemental piece, beautifully powering the story and themes I already knew. In preserving the events of the plot, the movie glosses over some important scenes and themes from the novel, so I’m excited to learn how those new to the story view the film. Stay posted for updates on when it comes to the states and where you can see it.