Monday, July 25, 2016

Into the Forest: When the Grid Crashes

When the Jean Hegland’s novel first released, it was well-received as a feminist take on apocalyptic fiction. Since then, it has also found a receptive audience among the Prepper community. It is not hard to see why. When the grid goes down for good, you do not want to be a woman without a gun in Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Into the Forest (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

After the death of his wife, Robert moved his two roughly college-aged daughters to his state-of-the-art, sustainable cabin in the Pacific Northwest woods. Oddly enough, they are both mostly okay with it. Eva is obsessively focused on her modern dance routines, while Nell starts a relationship with Eli, one of the few hipsters in the nearest burg. When the power goes out, they assume it is a localized phenomenon, but when they finally trek into town for supplies, they learn it is much more widespread, with no anticipation of a quick fix.

Papa Bob is probably the kind of guy who would have three months of food on hand, but certain supplies are soon exhausted. Matters take a grim turn when a freak accident leads to the good father’s death. He might have made it when the grid was still up, but he has no chance in the permanent blackout. Of course, his death also leaves them without an obvious “protector.” Nell tries to assume that role anyway, at least to an extent, while Ava slides into depression. It will get even worse for them when the outside world finally intrudes on their darkened home.

From either a feminist or Prepper perspective, Forest is pretty effective film. Granted, the second act sibling angst drags on a bit too long. If ever there was a time to knuckle down and get serious it would be Doomsday. However, Rozema vividly portrays the post-Armageddon world. Unlike the loudness of most post-apocalyptic movies, it is the quiet stillness of the girls’ environment that is most striking. It also inevitably demonstrates why it is important to have an equalizer when the social order breaks down. As if that were not enough to entice gun-owning Preppers, it even holds pro-life implications.

As the father, Callum Keith Rennie is a naturally charismatic and reassuring presence. He is almost like a slightly younger clone of his Canadian countryman, Victor Garber. Although she is supposed to be the responsible one, Ellen Page is often annoyingly petulant as Nell. However, Evan Rachel Wood shows great range and taps into some truly dark places as Ava. Essentially, the film is a three-hander at most, with Max Minghella stuck with little more than a walk-on part as Eli, but Michael Eklund (not bad in Errors of the Human Body) eschews all subtlety, practically screaming “redneck predator” as an unwanted visitor.

It would be nice if Forest spurred a discussion of our vulnerable power grid, but don’t hold your breath. Despite the efforts of former Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, we have not hardened our powerlines against potential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. Perhaps most problematic, the Defense Department has declined to “island” our military bases. That means they share the same utilities as the rest of the civilian population. After the blackout of 2003, we know only too well how one crashing grid can bring down those it is linked to like dominoes. Therefore, our military would be equally in the dark as the rest of us in the event of an EMP, power plant sabotage, Carrington Event, or who knows what (a few back-up generators aren’t going to cut it).

Even those who prefer to bury their heads in the sand should appreciate Rozema’s low key, closely observed vision of the apocalypse. It is primal yet personal. Recommended for both Prepper and feminist subcultures, Into the Forest opens this Friday (7/29) in New York, at the Cinema Village.