When it comes to stark, post-apocalyptic dramas, female characters tend to have a pretty rough go of it, with most of them being raped, killed early on, or relegated to the sidelines as hapless appendages of their stronger (and usually better written) male counterparts for most of the film. And while there have been a few notable exceptions to this rule, like Linda Hamilton’s iconic badass in The Terminator films, the take-no-prisoners valley girls in 1984’s The Night of The Comet and the crew of gritty, self-sustaining renegades led by Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, as a general rule, the end of the world has not been kind to women onscreen. But as pioneering indie helmer Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park, I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing) makes clear with her fiery, feminist manifesto Into the Forest, that is clearly no longer the case.
Set in an unspecified near future where even an rambling, mid-century modern cabin in the woods is a gadget-riddled smart home, Forest is the story of two smart, ambitious sisters struggling to survive after society is plunged into darkness after a massive, worldwide power outage.
Starring Oscar-nominee Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) as Nell and the freakishly talented Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen, The Wrestler) as her older sister Eva, Forest doesn’t just throw out the rules of the classic, end-of-days drama by centering on two strong female characters but it also turns the entire notion of what the end of the world would actually be like on its ear. There are no dramatic explosions, earthquakes or floods, aliens or zombies, mostly, there is just silence. No traffic, no TV, no internet, no music. Just the maddening, never ending silence of a world without electricity. And like the best filmmakers, Rozema uses that silence to draw us ever deeper into Nell and Eva’s strange and often harrowing adventures in a suddenly post-digital world.
Adapted by Rozema from Jean Hegland’s best-selling novel of the same name, Forest also stars Bate’s Motel’s Michael Eklund, The Social Network’s Max Minghella, and veteran character actor Callum Rennie (Californication, Due South) as Nell and Eva’s beloved, but ultimately doomed, father. But it’s Page and Wood who get the lion’s share of screen time here and they totally run with it.
Watching as Nell and Eva are slowly stripped of the material items that once tethered them to the modern world, the film takes on an almost novelistic intimacy that is even further enhanced by Rozema’s keen eye for detail. Most people use the term “chick flick” in a derogatory way, but, to me, Forest is the ultimate chick flick in that there is a delicacy and depth to the film that is intuitive and masterful. Simply put, Rozema has crafted a kickass, feminist genre flick for the ages and the fact that she has done so within the rigid confines of a traditionally male-driven genre makes it all the more remarkable.
That said, Forest isn’t perfect – honestly, the ending felt a bit abrupt to me after the slow, sensual flow of the rest of the film – but no matter what you think of how it ends, the haunting, pitch-perfect performances of the two leads will be seared into your imagination forever, even, quite possibly, until the end of the world.
Now playing on select Cathay Pacific, Air China, Emirates, China Southern, Air Canada and Hainan Airlines flights worldwide, Into the Forest is also available via streaming on Amazon Video, Google Play and iTunes.