Into the Forest (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two sisters isolated in the apocalyptic world

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“Into the Forest” is a small but engaging survival drama about two young women who suddenly find themselves isolated in an apocalyptic situation. Although it can be said that the story does not break any new ground in its genre territory, the movie steadily holds our attention mainly thanks to the two strong lead performances at its center, and it is actually poignant as we come to see how much its two heroines have been changed and grown up around the end of the story.

At the beginning, the movie observes the cozy daily life of an adolescent girl named Nell (Ellen Page) and her older sister Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) at their family house located in some remote forest area of the West Coast region. Although their mother died a few years ago, they have taken care of well by their loving father, and everything looks all right for them as they go through another peaceful day in their family house.

But then something unexpected happens in the middle of that day. There comes a sudden TV news report about a massive power outage, and it does not take much time for everyone in the house to realize how serious the situation is. Electricity is promptly cut off, and, to make matters worse, they become isolated from the outside world for several days as their vehicle happens to have a battery problem due to Nell’s inadvertent mistake.

Anyway, Nell and Eva’s father manages to fix that problem in the end, so he and his daughters can go to the closest town to their house, but it turns out that things have become quite worse during last several days because of the prolonged absence of gas, electricity, and communication. While nobody knows what really caused that massive power outage, everyone has been driven to more despair and danger, and Nell and Eva’s father certainly becomes concerned a lot about his daughters’ safety, especially when they come across a bunch of menacing motorcycle gangs on the road.

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Meanwhile, Nell and Eva try to stick to their usual daily routines as coping with their drastically changed circumstance. While there will not be any audition in the future unless a miracle happens, Eva keeps practicing her dance movements, and Nell continues to study and read books even though her SAT test result is not useful anymore. As constantly reminded of their increasingly gloomy situation, they often clash with each other over trivial matters, but they still stick together under their father’s care, and it looks like they and their father will be all right for several months at least.

However, of course, their circumstance subsequently becomes more desperate after a tragic accident happens a few days later, and Nell comes to rise to the occasion for actively taking care of herself as well as Eva. While her sister is still occupied with her dancing practice, she works hard to maintain the status quo in their house, and, not so surprisingly, she finds herself clashing with her sister more often than before.

On one day, there comes a possible opportunity to get out of this seemingly hopeless situation. A lad who was once very close to Nell comes to the house, and he later suggests that they should try a long and risky journey to the East Coast region, which, according to rumors, might be safer in comparison. While Eva is skeptical, Nell seriously considers going along with him, and that accordingly generates another tension between her and her sister.

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Now I should be more careful about what will happen next, but I can tell you at least that director/writer Patricia Rozema’s screenplay, which is adapted from the novel of the same name by Jean Hegland, keeps its plot rolling in its small background while throwing a few unexpected dramatic turns. After Nell comes to make a crucial decision at one point, she and Eva become more aware of how much they depend on each other, and the movie shows some wry sense of humor when Nell must acquire a certain type of protein source necessary for her sister’s physiological condition later in the story.

Above all, the movie is supported well by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, who are indubitably two of the best actresses working in Hollywood. While Page, who drew my attention with her chillingly twisted performance in “Hard Candy” (2005) and then surprised me more with her lovable Oscar-nominated turn in “Juno” (2007), is convincing in her character’s gradual emotional growth and development along the narrative, Evan Rachel Wood, who has diligently advanced since her wonderful breakout performance in “Thirteen” (2003), is also terrific as deftly complementing her co-star, and they are constantly interesting to watch whenever their characters swing back and forth between affection and resentment. Although Nell and Eva sometimes does not get along that well with each other, their strong emotional bond is always palpable to us, and we are touched as they stick together more than they ever imagined around the climactic part of the story.

On the whole, “Into the Forest” may look rather modest in its achievement, but it is still worthwhile to watch for its solid mood, storytelling, and performance, and I particularly appreciate how it brings some feminist touches into its familiar genre territory. To be frank with you, I did not expect much at first, but the movie engaged me more than expected, and that is more than enough for recommendation in my humble opinion.

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