Into the Forest
Have always been interested at the end of civilization, a period for humanity is brushed aside like a mosquito that landed on your arm. Our interest in this most cataclysmic of times is deeply ingrained in our consciousness as demonstrated by the appearance and almost every religious text or traditions ever adopted by our species. Filmmakers have made good use of the drama intrinsically part of a catechism as it unfolds. The post-apocalyptic thriller is one of the most popular forms of the action/thriller genre retaining its high ranking logically resisting changes in the current widespread interest of the audience. The actual cause of the ruination of society is inconsequential. Rather it is a bioweapon released into the world on unprecedented series of natural disasters, the only thing that seems to matter is that the fundamental constructs of our society including the technology we depend on upon the civil authorities that do protect us from anarchy have disintegrated. Most movies that form to this genre focused almost exclusively on the action that the daily survival. The protagonist faces unimaginable physical dangers at every turn striving to survive against the growing anarchy as vicious warlords consolidate gangs and tribes returning us to a cruel feudal arrangement. The main focus of this popular example of the genre is action. Driving the story is the challenging task of overcoming harsh physical challenges inflicted by man and nature. The latest offering by independent filmmaker, Patricia Rozema, ‘Into the Forest’ presents a post-apocalyptic story quite unlike those who are accustomed to watching. The film provides an example of a film that finds acceptance among the critical community rather than the general audience. The reason is simple; it eschews the expected stereotypes and tropes for a deeply emotional story. Incredible accomplishments of modern CGI pushed to the side for something that that is seen only rarely in such movies, deeply poignant performances by a pair exceptionally gifted actresses. Hardship and strife that accompanies the dissolution of our modern way of life are not externalized buildings crumbling as the earth beneath them quake or waves arise from the sea inundating the coastland. The upheaval that drives this story originates deep within the survivors as they have to learn to cope with the psychological and emotional changes they are forced to endure.
The story is set sometime in the not all that distant future as established by the use of tables and high definition screen in the home. Some computer displays seem to float to provide user access. The home is nicely appointed set in a verdant park-like area. The family within are going about their normal routines. Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) is gracefully contorting her slender frame in a modern expressive dance. Her younger sister, Nell (Ellen Page) is studying for her college acceptance examines video chatting with her boyfriend. Suddenly, the screen shuts off as plunging the house into darkness. Their father, (Callum Keith Rennie), calls for the House to resume its power to no avail, Eva is upset that she has to practice for her dance audition with only a primitive metronome to count out the beat. Neil, calls out annoyed that she can’t study without her computer an internet connection. Father had been listening to a news report on the power failure; it is wide spread and of unknown origin. Soon it is apparent that the blackout is more severe than they initially thought. There is no sign of normalcy’s restoration as several days pass. Personally, I have lived through four major blackouts with the last one, caused by Hurricane Sandy, stretching out for over eight days. Unlike my first experience in 1966, this latest prolonged loss of power was closest to what this family faced. It was not just the electricity that was gone, sources for working, entertainment and keeping up with current events was greatly hindered. Like Eva and Neil, my family was entirely dependent on the all-pervasive modern technology. Inexorably trapped in a world, they were not prepared to live. A battery operated radio manages to supply some provisional details. The report stated that a local power plant experienced problems causing the safety protocols to shut the facility down. This localized interruption quickly resulted in a cascading effect leading to a sizeable region without power.
I did mention that this story abandoned many of the typically necessary plot devices, but a few did survivor the genre overall. The family pile into the family car to obtain provisions, when they get to a general store the owner, Stan (Michael Eklund), is the archetypical opportunistic creep greeting them menacingly with a shotgun. The store is all but picked bare but after Father assures Stan they have money they are permitted to gather what they can from the few remaining items. Even in the aftermath of an obvious serious event even the slimmest thread of hope that the world will recover is sufficient to fan the flames of greed continually. Father is dispatched rather quickly leaving the young women alone and ill-prepared to cope. What is noteworthy here is the fact that even with such a brief amount of screen time the filmmaker’s adaptation of the novel by Jean Hegland is amazingly well crafted. Quickly affording the audience the opportunity to understand the father, knowing him to be a kind and loving parent devoted to his daughters. When his time ends with the conclusion of the first act, we have already bonded to this character mourning his loss and heightening our concern of Eva and Neil.
While still in town, Eva does manage to practice her dance routine with a friend while Nell meets up with her boyfriend, Eli (Max Minghella). The young lover’s time together is brief as Neil rejoins her father and sister for the trip back to their home. You might expect the father to succumb to a brutal gang while defending his daughters but his fate has sealed by accident involving a chainsaw. His daughters lie beside his body through the night. Returning home, they attempt to bolster their resolve by sticking to a daily routine. Despite the fact that school and dance companies are long gone, the sense of continuity with their former lives is comforting. By clutching some semblance of normality, they can ward off the debilitating effects of the reality of their situation. When Eli visits, he is shocked by the news of their loss. The utter despair temporarily ameliorated for Eli and Neil through intimacy will result in a predictable complication of the situation that his handled in an artistically spectacular fashion. There is a great deal of tenderness imbued in the story that is carefully measured out in the movie so as to avoid spiraling into an inescapable pit of melodrama. The emotional intensity and psychological stresses are balanced ideally permitting the audience to revel in the artistry of the performances delivered by Ms, Woods and Ms. Page. I have admired both of them for most of their careers watching as they blossomed into intensely professional entertainers. The filmmaker has given her audience a visually stunning experience. From the serene embrace of nature surrounding the young women as the technology they depend on upon deserts them to the control Eva has over her body it is the juxtaposition of images and circumstances that drive this story directly into the emotional core of the viewers. One of the most powerful moments in the story is when Neil has to butcher a wild hog as a source of desperately needed food. Inn their continuing effort to strive for realism Ms. Page learned how actually to perform this task. Like everyone who contributed to this project, it demonstrated a commitment to give the audience an experience of extraordinary power through honesty in the presentation.