The time is the near future, and out in this Canadian forest there is a house where a couple of sisters, Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood), live with their widowed father (Callum Keith Rennie), a man for whom life in the middle of nowhere is perfect, though for his daughters, perhaps not so much. Nell is studying for her exams, Eva is training to get into a dance academy, and it seems they will both be flying the nest soon enough, yet one night as they are in their home the power goes out. And it stays out, as far as they can tell from the battery-operated radio the cuts have happened all across North America, and nobody knows why - but what if the electricity never came back on?
Science fiction movies usually mean visual effects are going to be involved, and into the twenty-first century that meant computer generated imagery, but what about the occasional effort that eschewed such luxuries? Obviously it would not involve the trappings of much of the genre, so no space scenes, no robots, definitely no space aliens, and aside from the use of fire at the end there were really no manufactured visuals whatsoever, it was all what you see was what you got as far as what you were looking at went. Nevertheless, director Patricia Rozema, adapting Jean Hegland's novel, wanted the audience to think big with her concept, a world without electrical energy.
Now, had this been set in a city it would be difficult to produce without the graphics, but it was set in a lush, green forest of the title, meaning Rozema was at ease to concentrate on the central dynamic of the sisters' relationship. For most of the movie the two stars were the sole characters to be seen, as once it was established they were alone and nobody, as far as they were aware, knew of their existence out there, they were content to get back to nature, essentially, this being a theme of the piece. As humanity must get used to their lives without mass communication, phones, and entertainment they had enjoyed, so must Nell and Eva wake up to the dawning realisation that things have changed.
Those plans they had for their careers, for their personal lives, and so on have to be reassessed in this society where returning to nature may mean humanity have to also return to being farmers or hunter-gatherers, now in touch with their surroundings more than ever before, but it also means fresh dangers as the community has broken down and people give into their worst impulses since they have nobody to stop them. This immorality makes itself plain in one, central and distressing sequence which affects the sisters for the rest of their lives, however long that may be, but it was something of a cliché that said if there was a mass break down of the support of authority and amenity, then basically everything goes to the dogs and folks forget about being decent all of a sudden.
Whether that would be the case is a moot point, as civilisation has reached a point where the vast majority do not go around seeking an opportunity for violence, victimisation and intimidation, and it's not clear whether those who do would have the upper hand, so in that way Into the Forest fell back on genre stereotype to an extent. What made it more absorbing was the acceptance of a gradual pace in this new life, slow days for the most part, only punctuated by occasional bursts of activity, the sisters' house symbolic of the civilisation they would ultimately have to leave behind, albeit in those last scenes this was taken a shade too far as you doubted they would survive a winter in those conditions, indicating a fairy tale, metaphorical conclusion. Still, it was what this represented that was important, and if it was not doing anything the British television series Survivors had done back in the nineteen-seventies, or the classic novel Earth Abides did back in the forties, this was a narrative that bore repeating: what would we do if it all fell apart? This was enough to make the film engaging, caveats aside (the actresses were ten years too old for their roles, for a start). Music by Max Richter.