Blu-ray Review: Into the Forest

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Gripping from start to finish, Into the Forest is a realistic, decidedly non-hysterical and non-action-oriented take on a near-future dystopia. The film stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as sisters struggling to achieve self-sufficiency in an environment where there isn't much help available. Written and directed by Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park), the film's greatest assets are the wrenching performances by its two leads. But no less important is Rozema's unerring ability to keep the tone reigned in. There are no Hollywood-isms in this tale of survival (adapted from Jean Hegland's 1996 novel of the same name). Never mind that it only played in a few dozen theaters theaters during a very limited summer release by distributor A24—Into the Forest is not to be missed. Think of it as an antidote to the Hunger Games and Divergent series (I say that as a fan of those popcorn flicks, but the point is that although Into the Forest might superficially sound similar—it is not).

In fact, I'm hesitant to offer a summary of the plot. I went into this Forest knowing virtually nothing about it. And I feel I've already said enough. This is a film best approached without preconceived notions. But in order to make it a bit clearer what I admired about the film, I'll offer a mild spoiler warning (not planning to divulge anything vital) and discuss what I feel is among the best movies of 2016. 
rsz_into_the_forest_ellen_page.jpg Sister Nell (Page) and Eva (Wood) live in a rain-drenched, forest-based home with their father, Robert (Callum Keith Rennie). It's the future—as evidenced by the translucent computer screens and other advanced tech—but hardly a distant one. Cars still run on gas. Roofs still spring leaks. These are the simple facts upon which much of Forest's plot mechanics hang. Though beautiful in design, the family's isolated house has fallen into a state of partial disrepair, with tarps spread over sections of failing roof. Nell wants to party and hang with her boyfriend Eli (Max Minghella). She's also daddy's favorite. Eva is more withdrawn and serious minded, obsessively practicing her dancing for an upcoming audition (for which, she worries, she may be too old).

And then the power goes out. Initially, life goes on. After all, the power always comes back on eventually, right? But a slowly-creeping sense of despair sets in as it becomes clear this outage will likely be long term. Rather than a story about why the power grid went down, Forest focuses on one family's struggle to persevere despite being plunged back into an early-19th century-style existence. And it's also a story of feminine strength as the very girlish Nell and Eva have to continually up their survival instincts and resourcefulness. There are no zombies. There is no alien invasion. But there are men. Some of these men are simply inept, others are capable of wreaking great damage on those who they perceive as weaker. You won't know where things are heading as Into the Forest rolls out, and I'm not about to elaborate any further. Keep in mind: this is a slow-building, deliberately-paced story. But it will stay with you after the credits roll. 
rsz_into_the_forest_bd.jpg Lionsgate's Blu-ray presentation offers a strong transfer of Daniel Grant's cinematography, which looks terrific even during the film's many very low-level lighting sequences. The audio is lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1, a surround mix that efficiently delivers the film's minimalist sound design. Composer Max Richter's hauntingly score is among the more prominent elements, despite its unobtrusiveness.

Supplemental material: writer-director Patricia Rozema provides audio commentary and there's a "Making of Into the Forest" featurette (16 minutes).

Thought provoking, extremely well acted (both Page and Wood deliver astounding performances, each digging deep to churn up emotions most of us never want to face), and evocatively filmed, Into the Forest is essential viewing.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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