In Rozema’s film, the apocalypse begins rather sensually, with talented cinematographer Daniel Grant capturing a female dancer in closeup. The sequence in no way portends what’s about to come.
Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) live with their adoring father, Robert (Callum Keith Rennie), in a striking home in the woods, miles from the nearest town. Nell is in the midst of studying for her Sats, while Eva spends her days furiously practicing for a national dance audition.
Despite their gorgeous surroundings, the three are all very reliant on technology: an early scene shows them all occupied by see-through digital notebooks and very snazzy TVs. Rozema deftly relays that INTO THE FOREST is set in the near-future via the futuristic design of the electronic appliances.
Robert and his two daughters are forced to find other ways to spend their time when their home loses electricity. It’s soon made apparent that they’re not the only ones affected – entire cities are without power, with news reports suggesting that a terrorist had targeted power supplies.
After ten days, with the blackout looking permanent, matters turn bleak with the nearest grocery store nearly empty, and gasoline scarce. Following a dangerous run-in with some gun-toting locals, Robert forbids his girls from leaving his home, but it isn’t long before Nell and Eva are left to fend for themselves after Robert gets into a deadly accident.
From there on in, INTO THE FOREST turns into an intimate two-hander – save for the welcome appearance of Max Minghella as young man intent on wooing Nell, and the less welcome Michael Eklund, playing a creepy store clerk with his eyes set on Eva. A few shocking incidents abound – one in particular changes the women’s lives for ever – but Rozema’s film, based on Jean Hegland’s novel, is more interested in detailing the dynamic between the two sisters.
Therein lies the problem with Rozema’s adaptation: their relationship isn’t that compelling. It’s revealed in clunky fashion through home movies, that Nell and Eva’s mother died not long ago of an unnamed disease. Their grief registers, yet the characters remain underdeveloped as people worth investing in.
That’s not to discredit the work done by Page and Wood, both of whom go as deep as they can go with Rozema’s surface-level handling of the material (she also wrote the screenplay). Their sisterly bond is undeniable; it’s too bad that as individuals, they never manage to ring clear.