Patricia Rozema’s “Into the Forest” walks a blade’s edge between terrifying and uplifting, taking place during an apocalypse that’s all too plausible. Adapted from Jean Hegland’s 1996 novel, the film stars Ellen Page, who shepherded the book to the screen, alongside Evan Rachel Wood, as sisters who together face the end of the world as we know it.
It all starts so simply: a power outage. This near future doesn’t look that much different from ours, but civilized behavior erodes quickly with the comforts and necessities of modern life suddenly unavailable. Spirited away in their parents’ modern wooded home, Nell (Page) and Eva (Wood) are protected from the worst of the chaos, capable of fending for themselves. They carry on as best they can, choosing to remain holed up together, learning to adapt to a new lifestyle.
But the apocalypse catches up, swiftly and brutally. Rozema has a careful but unflinching eye when it comes to presenting the physical and emotional traumas the sisters experience. Even when some of the events escalate to operatic, nearly mystical levels, the direction feels assured and solidly rooted.
Wood gives an incredible physical performance as Eva, a dancer who can’t stop rehearsing for an audition that’s never going to happen. While Nell hunts and gathers and pores over books, utilizing her intellect, Eva channels her frustration through her body, and her body takes the brunt of the physical trauma that their experience brings to them. But her wounds heal stronger, and the sisterly bond offers the sustenance that fuels their survival.
‘Into the Forest’
MPAA rating: R, for a scene of violence involving rape, language and some sexuality/nudity.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: Sundance Sunset, West Hollywood