Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Into the Forest Movie Review

I’m having my doubts about Ellen Page. As she moves further away from her earlier roles, where an inner brightness shined through no matter what sort of character she played, she now wears bleakness like an accessory. Watching Page’s evolution has been like watching the Lucky Charms leprechaun turn into Eugene O’Neill.  I understand – Juno was a long time ago, and she’s pushing 30, and she’s taking on projects that seem appropriate for a forward-thinking young woman – but I entered a recent screening of Into The Forrest with growing unease. Would this be more of the “new” Ellen Page? Would it be just another 90 minutes of Page’s elfin face frozen in concern, except, of course, when she’s bawling her eyes out? Someone must tell her that to be a mature performer doesn’t require a sacrifice of her brash likeability. Strange, too, is how she occupies less space in her recent movies, as if she’s slow dancing alone in her own tiny shadow. Her dynamism is gone.

Into The Forrest is the story of two sisters (Page and Evan Rachel Wood) fighting for survival after a mysterious power outage has left America in the dark. Stranded far from the nearest city in their father’s sparse woodland home, they rely on ingenuity not seen since last year when Matt Damon landed on Mars. Directed by Patricia Rozema from her own screenplay (adapted from a novel by Jean Hegland), the movie is watchable if a bit too pat, the sort where all of the men are either rapists or incompetent – the girls’ father dies after an accident with a chainsaw, which made me wonder if Rozema had a bad childhood experience while watching Home Improvement -  and where sisterhood conquers all. A fellow with a cool accent almost comes between them, but not even he can break up these touchy feely siblings. Page, looking healthier and prettier than she has in a while, cries throughout, save for when she’s involved in physical stuff like chopping wood, dancing around a campfire, or shooting a wild pig. Then again, she even cries when she kills the pig. This movie may be Page’s personal best as far as total tears shed, but so much emotional chaos begins to feel monotonous; at one point Rozema jams the camera right into Page’s knotted little face as the tears rush out. Wood does some crying, too, but not as much as Page. Wood is second billed, after all.

We may be in the middle of a golden age as far as “end of society” movies. Someday a movie buff with too much time on his or her hands will link Into The Forrest with How I Live Now and a half dozen others made this decade. They all play the same way (“Hey, what’s wrong with the radio?”) and offer similar messages about how we have only each other once our technology breaks down. To Rozema’s credit, there are no warring tribes to worry about, no zombies, no plagues, nothing that might snap the movie out of its blue mood. She’s determined to tell the tale with a soft touch. But it’s too soft. The score is syrupy, like the crap you’d hear in a yoga studio. Also, I’m not sold on the idea that sisterhood solves everything. It reeks of that Iron John hokum of the nineties, where middle-aged men ran through the woods in face paint, playing drums in the nude.

As for Page, sometimes I wonder if we’re too impressed by her willingness to test herself.  Kudos to her for sidestepping what could’ve been an easy career of teen comedies and comic book movies, but without the padding of flippant dialog and a cool soundtrack,  the thinness of her acting becomes apparent. This isn’t to say she’s not committed to these recent parts – her next project is one where she plays a marine in Afghanistan, which will require more tears, more looks of concern, more wrinkling of her forehead (the most formidable forehead since Isaac Asimov, who could actually flex his forehead like a bicep; she’s not there yet but I’m convinced it’s where Page stores the water for her crying scenes)  – but there’s a shrillness to her in these “serious” roles. Page can show affection or sadness like a champ, and her warm dark eyes still hold some mystery, but everything else comes out like a bird call. As Nell in Into The Forrest,  she throws herself into her work, but there’s more to acting than being a 90-pound woman with 80-pound tear ducts.


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