Arts Review, Movies
Patricia Rozema, director & script based on the novel by Jean Hegland
Starring: Ellen Page (Nell), Evan Rachel Wood (Eva), Max Minghella (Eli), Callum Keith Rennie (Robert), Michael Eklund (Stan)
Ellen Page is at her feisty best as Nell, one of two sisters trying to cope in a dystopian future in Patricia Rozema’s Into the Forest. Viewers will be riveted by the story, which has a day-after-tomorrow scenario. Page’s Nell, her sister Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) and father Robert (Callum Keith Rennie) are living in a gorgeous modernist house in the woods when, with no explanation, the electricity stops working. In a brilliantly directed scene, the alarmed family goes down to the local town for provisions and finds that nearly everything is gone and people are so tense that a descent into violence and anarchy seems inevitable. The trio return home and hope to wait out the impending crisis.
Things go from bad to worse when Robert dies in a tree cutting accident, leaving the sisters to fend for themselves. Evan Rachel Wood’s Eva is far less prepared to deal with the situation than her sister. She’s a dancer and is, initially, quite idealistic. It’s up to Nell, the younger one, to sort out what to do in a situation when civilization has suddenly disappeared. As the sisters deal with one crisis after another, Into the Forest becomes a melodramatic thriller with a difference: we know that the film is intended to be a warning about our future—not a “scary” genre flick.
The film marks a return to form for two important Canadian talents, Ellen Page and Patricia Rozema. We all remember Page as the irreverent maverick pregnant teenager in the global hit comedy Juno. She was nominated for over 30 awards, including an Oscar, for her title role in that film. In the ensuing eight years, she’s virtually disappeared from the screen apart from appearances in one of the X-Men films, the sci-fi hit Inception and the sadly neglected Bruce McDonald feature The Tracey Fragments. Perhaps coming out as a lesbian has done the trick—although she plays a heterosexual in Rozema’s film. Whatever it is, she is back to being a charismatic, pragmatic character, and a natural lead in Into The Forest.
Patricia Rozema has always been a major talent. Her first feature I Heard the Mermaids Singing signaled the Toronto New Wave’s arrival on the world stage when she won a major prize in Cannes in 1987. But her last hit was a wonderfully literate adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park in 1999. It’s great to see her back—and at her best—in Into the Forest.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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