It’s the end of the world as we know it. In the near future, the power grid goes down, and two young women living in an idyllic home in the forest with their father are quickly greeted with the realization that well away from society is exactly where they need to stay. Into The Forest was a jarring and impactful experience when I first watched it, but on the other side of seeing Southwest’s power-loss initiated very bad week live and in person, I’m also more convinced than ever of its realism, and that is terrifying.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a character-driven story, so that’s where we’ll start. Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) and Nell (Ellen Page) are wildly different people, siblings of the type that share blood and not a whole lot else. Eva is a dancer, everyday she spends hours perfecting an audition routine. Nell meanwhile devotes her time to SAT prep. … And there’s the plot element that unavoidably causes the eyebrow of the attuned viewer to twitch.
Ellen Page and Even Rachel Wood are 29 and 28 respectively, and it’s not that they aren’t up to the challenge, but both burst onto the scene at sufficiently young ages that we’ve seen them slip into and out of late teens roles for more than a decade. It’s another interesting element of the state of women in Hollywood. In another ten years or so these stunning talents may well be relegated to but parts as moms, as they’ll be termed “old,” but for now they’re still viable as adolescents. Perchance that’s why young girls looking for themselves in media feel that they should look older while grown women often feel they look too old. But I digress. For the purposes of Into The Forest, this is but a passing thought, because it’s a treat to see these women do this work. I totally get it. If you can have Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood in your picture you give and emphatic yes.
The youth of these characters works beautifully in the narrative. Their initial existence is peaceful and somewhat removed from the world save for weekly trips in to the nearest town for supplies — a measure they quickly suspend when it becomes apparent that all the normal rules went out the window with the power loss. Relative isolation and uncertain circumstances already create such an air of vulnerability, but when circumstances leave Nell and Eva quite alone the sense of creeping unease accelerates. Soon everything is cloaked in a veil of anxiety.
Everything about Eva and Nell’s survival is a major question mark and it becomes quite impossible to resist projecting. Are they safe there? What about food and water? Heat? Would I have thought to do that? Could I do that? These are the questions that linger, even in some of the film’s particularly beautiful, human moments. And that, perchance, is what most makes Into The Forest stick with you long after it reaches its own conclusion.
Some viewers may find that the pacing doesn’t appeal to them, but for me, at least, the periods of calm, the scenes of boredom, these are what give the picture an air of authenticity.
Into The Forest is a studied, powerfully acted effort that is equal parts devastating and inspiring. Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page carry the weight of propelling the narrative effortlessly. The end result is a captivating , understated take on an apocalypse that’s feels too feasible for comfort.
Into The Forest expands into select theaters this weekend. Ellen Page can also be seen in Sundance crowd-favorite Tallulah on Netflix starting July 29. Evan Rachel Wood sits among the top billing in our upcoming HBO obsession, Westworld.
Main Image Credit: A24
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