Toronto International Film Festival recently played their collection of Canadian content in their annual screenings of Top 10: #seethenorth.
The festival was initiated by the high-profile Patricia Rozema film Into the Forest (2015) starring Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page.
The reception of this film is as turbulent as the psudeo-sci-fi plot line: In the not-too-distant future a massive power outage causes two sisters to band together in the face of apocalyptic adversity.
This is not a movie of quiet subtlety. I’m convinced it was intended to be, however, with moments that included Crystal Pike’s dance-choreography, the secret eating of chocolate, the importance of half a can of gasoline, etc. All moments that were intended to make the audience realize our reliance on modern technology. Thus, small moments unfold obviously, and at many times without adequate or satisfying explanation.
Is this a feminist film? While not overtly feminist it is clearly feminine. The primary location is set deep within the forest, as the title would suggest, and as such there becomes a clear and rather forced binary between the forest (feminine) and the man-made (masculine). This dichotomy tends to follow the same tired association of the feminine being linked with safety, warmth and comfort, while the masculine is connected with pain, hardship and hurt.
There is a painfully obvious motif at play with the girls “tree fort” in the woods behind their home. The fort, built into the stump of an old tree, and only accessible through a small opening one must crawl through. It is a place in the film where Ellen Page has sex (for the first time), that keeps the women safe during a storm, and a place where Wood’s character gives birth. Plainly, this is a womb: a place of pleasure, safety, and creation, it even LOOKS like a womb with the entry one must crawl through to enter or exit. The family home, a man made creation, natch, is spontaneously and inexplicably burnt to the ground using the remaining gasoline – man-made destroyed by man-made: a taste of it’s own medicine. But why did the women burn down the house that contained ALL the books page’s character referred to throughout the film? The ones that helped them eat, survive and, you know, give birth? The movie is riddled with such thoughtless momentum.
All of the men in the film are portrayed as static archetypes: the father, potentially the only interesting character in the film meets his end after having his chainsaw backfire while trying to chop down a tree (read: he attempted to use a man-made instrument while attacking the feminine thus he deserves to die of his own hubris). Page’s boyfriend is portrayed as “annoying” and irresponsible, ultimately problematic as he is a wedge that would drive the sisters apart. And the only other male character on screen: a rapist who inexplicably finds the girls home, literally in the middle of nowhere in the woods, and proceeds to rape Wood’s character making her, temporarily, afraid of the outdoors and the feminine, since it betrayed her sense of safety.
In place of what could have been an interesting feminist study in the face of apocalypse, one is left feeling annoyed by the obviousness of it all. Across the board, reviews seem very set on the mediocrity of the film, some arguing that the film didn’t push hard enough. However, I felt that the film pushed too hard, just in all the wrong places.
There is is another problematic aspect to this film in the wake of a “canadian top 10” film festival. Again, this is a film largely hidden in its “place”. Though one can recognize the superb, pristine British Columbian landscape, it is still easily interchangeable for California redwoods. This is coupled with the fact that half-way through the film “Boston” is dropped as a pin on the map. This is simply an example of yet-another “Canadian” film disguised, hidden, as if that very label is somehow shameful.
To conclude, this is a “Feminist-Canadian” film that is neither feminist nor Canadian; a “sci-fi” that relies solely on melodrama; an obvious-film trying too hard to be subtle; a film one can confidently say fails. Lights out, just like the power in the diegesis.