I have a fascination with looking at old photographs, especially those taken of familiar landscapes and landmarks. Seeing how nature is slowing being turned into smooth concrete or towering, iron structures feels reassuring but also bleak. I get a similar feeling from seeing an old, abandoned home slowly being engulfed by ivy. It is refreshing to see the life growing, but also terrifying to witness this often unexamined battle of nature versus modernity. We strike a blow with every field that’s converted into a parking lot, with every lawn cut and every area deforested. If unchecked, nature will overtake us and continue to grow like a disease, perhaps our society is the disease and nature is the white blood cells ready to cleanse itself of us. Into the Forest examines the true nature of humans once all of our constructed creature comforts disappear and we are forced to face ourselves in the light of the wilderness.
There is as quiet power in Into the Forest that fills the air like the space between a flash of lightning and the rumbling thunder. The sheer intensity of both elements fill the screaming silence with an unspoken tension that keeps you immersed in the film while it slowly burns through the dramatic story. Director Patricia Rozema acknowledges the brutality in the world and uses the characters to personalize it, but ultimately decides to focus on the beauty and serenity within the chaos. This optimism is the film’s true strength, even if it often comes at the expense of an emotional climax. Instead, it compensates by developing the relationship between Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) into a complex bond of sisterhood.
Into the Forest’s visual style begins by contrasting the advanced technology and the natural setting of the forest. There is a simple and sleek elegance to the design of the technology. It is beautiful but in a much more calculated and controlled way. As all of our electronics fail and power disappears, nature inevitably reclaims what it once owned, making ruins of the places we once knew and introducing us to the ever-present sanctuaries only recently rediscovered. Aside from exploring themes about sisterhood and the bonds of family, it also explores our society’s fatalistic reliance on technology.
Rozema adapts the script from the novel of the same name by focusing on the characters and their forced coming-of-age in this post-apocalyptic world. Through the characters, she explores the notion of childish helplessness turning into adult self-sufficiency. The first half of the film is all about acceptance and coming to terms with the unceremonious end of “civilization” while the second half of the film is all about making the adult decision to move forward with your life in a proactive way. Rozema takes some of the novel’s darker, emotional climaxes and downplays them in the film, giving them a chance to breathe and insidiously take root in your mind.
As Into the Forest subtly penetrates our emotional depths, we are left to enjoy the truly nuanced performances where even the forest is a character in this tense drama. Aside from a fantastic performance from the forest, Page and Wood each deliver a gripping interpretation of their characters, never giving into overdramatization. Their organic performances are only complimented by the film’s use of natural lighting and an even more natural landscape. Even though the world they’ve known has ended, the film’s indomitable sense of optimism is both greatly rewarding and refreshing in a world filled with subpar dystopian, teenage dramas.
Rating: ★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)