Ellen Paige and Evan Rachel Wood star in a surprisingly moving post-apocalyptic film that never made it to American theaters. It isn’t flashy, that’s for sure. You don’t see the cataclysm that brings the world to its knees, nor are there vivid scenes of mass societal collapse. Into the Forest concentrates on the experience of two sisters and their small world in the mountains. For those looking for explosions, firefights, barbarism, or maybe zombies, you will find none of that here. This movie is not for everyone but it is enthralling in its own way.
Based on the novel by Jean Hegland, the movie takes place in the remote wooded mountains (possibly Northern California but the location is never specified) where a small family is going about their normal modern lives. It is set in the very near future, perhaps 5 for 10 years from now based on some of the neat gadgets. Ellen Paige (Nell) and Evan Rachel Wood (Eva) are sisters in their late teens/early twenties living with their widowed father miles away from the nearest town. One day the power goes out in the house and never comes back on. They learn the power is out across the continent with no explanation of the cause. Fearing the breakdown of society in the nearby town, their father insists they stay near the house. When he dies in a tragic accident, the two sisters are left to fend for themselves in the middle of nowhere.
Sounds kind of boring right? Well, for most American moviegoers, it is probably a little too slow. It isn’t really a post-apocalyptic movie in the normal sense. The movie had a tiny budget and relies heavily on its talented cast to keep you engaged and captivated. For me, it worked. Ellen Paige and Evan Rachel Wood carry this movie from beginning to end. Their chemistry and unique, subtle dynamic is extremely compelling. Using two sisters as protagonists isn’t something you see too often, which gives the whole movie a unique feel to it. The movie doesn’t rely on a romance, love triangle, or the sex appeal of its leads to get audiences to care.
Paige is among the most talented actresses out there today. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the superficial attributes of the typical Hollywood leading lady. Evan Rachel Wood has had a long and successful career on television and in films you’ve probably never seen or heard of. Both have that indie pedigree that made them perfect fits for Into the Forest.
The challenges for the sisters are both practical and extraordinary. Without electricity and civilization, they must fend for themselves for months. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes front and center. Then there is the danger from other people who only want to take what they have. Luckily Nell is a smart and resourceful woman with a pile of paper encyclopedias. Eva isn’t the problem solver but contributes in any way she can. Eventually the collapse reaches them as strangers come lurking through the woods, coming across their small home. The problem-solving and improvisation gives the movie some of the typical post-apocalyptic survival elements. What makes it unique is that there are only two characters, both female, and not your typical strong female characters. They aren’t martial artists or weapon-wielding bad asses. By most measures they are typical millennials.
The interdependence of Nell and Eva is powerful and feels authentic. They are loving sisters before the power goes out, but are clearly more interested in living their own lives than helping one another. The apocalypse changes that. The ending is amazing in its own way, although some will find it weak or disappointing. There is no neat wrapping-up of the end of the world.
Into the Forest isn’t for everyone; there are many post-apocalyptic fiction fans out there that will find it terribly boring. It relies on the strength of only two characters in a very unique survival situation. Most of us have no clue what its like to live in the mountains an hour away from the nearest town. We also like to see apocalyptic stories unfold on a global scale rather than zooming down to just a tiny cast. Throw in the fact that Paige and Wood are unusual protagonists for the end of the world and you have something that is an acquired taste. I enjoyed it a lot and would recommend it for those that have an appreciation for low-key, low-budget indie movies.
Jacob Foxx is the Editor of Prescientcifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.