“Look at this place — it’s toxic, it’s rotting.”
The collapse of society won’t come as the result of war, or plague, but rather from a complete lack of power. Electricity and energy are so vital to our modern way of life that were there to be a massive power outage the likes of which we had never experienced, and could not recover from, mere anarchy would be loosed upon the world.
At the start of the beautiful but inert Into the Forest, an unprecedented power failure casts two sisters and their father (and, presumably, the rest of the world) into darkness. The sisters, bookish Nell (Ellen Page) and passionate Eva (Evan Rachel Wood), and their father (Callum Keith Rennie), are only inconvenience at first. Living in a luxurious, modernist home filled with tasteful wood fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows, Nell is frustrated that the lack of power is cutting into her studying for the SATs while Eva is annoyed that she has no music to practice her dancing. Their father is a bit more pragmatic, and approaches the power outage as a mini-adventure; a slight problem that will surely blow over.
But it doesn’t blow over. Time ticks on in darkness, and an event soon leaves Nell and Eva alone in their house in the forest. The sisters must learn to survive on their own without the electrical assistance they’ve known their whole lives. Writer-director Patricia Rozema, adapting the novel by Jean Hegland, filters this semi-post-apocalyptic through a minimalist lens. It’s at first refreshing to watch such a stripped-down story that would usually be applied to a larger, more bombastic (and dumber) blockbuster. The problem: the stripped-down story just isn’t very engaging.
Page and Wood, two fiercely talented actresses, are far too reserved here. Third act developments allow Wood more opportunity to break out, but Page is mostly trapped by the nature of her character. The smaller scope of the tale also backfires a bit: there are long stretches of Into the Forest where you might completely forget the power-failure set-up that triggered all of this. It’s one thing to keep a story like this low-key; it’s another to come off at times as oblivious to how we got here.
Into the Forest is prepossessing: the cinematography by Daniel Grant is, at times, museum gallery quality, and director Rozema is masterful at how she blocks her shots and captures the tranquil nature that the characters are forced to slip into. One of the earliest shots in the film, of Eva and Nell’s well-lit house suddenly blinking into darkness while the star-lit sky above the treetops glows overhead, is downright breathtaking. But the grace and beauty conveyed visually isn’t enough to rescue a stagnant story. Into the Forest, a film about power failure triggering a new way of life and rebirth for its characters, ends up lacking the power needed to convey its message.