Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A24 A-to-Z: #38. "Into the Forest" (2016)

Scene from Into the Forest
In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

Into the Forest
Released: July 29, 2016 
Release Number: 38
Directed By: Patricia Rozema
Starring: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella
Plot: After a massive power outage, two sisters learn to survive on their own in their isolated woodland home.

The summer of 2016 was a big year for dystopian fiction at A24. Following the utopian romance drama Equals, the studio pursued a very different type of story with the dark and upsetting film from director Patricia Rozema called Into the Forest. It was a film that looked at the future not as a place to live in fantasy, but presented something that seemed more real and scary. With central performances by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, it was a film that tackled the survival of two women in an environment without electricity or any of the main necessities. It was famous for one scene, of which took the most effort to do correctly and left one actor with broken capillaries. It may have not been a major hit for them, but it was another example of them branching out into challenging, original stories that this time placed women in new and frightening positions.

The first person to find interest in the story was Page, who became familiar with the novel by Jean Hegland. She connected with the idea of the story being prescient and telling about themes related to the moment. It was environmental, as well as how people treated each other in times of challenge. Her interest placed her as producer as she worked closely with the seasoned director Rozema to come up with ideas for how to shoot the film. The most noteworthy involved a rape scene, of which was discussed as needing not to be even the slightest bit suggestive. It was a traumatic scene, of which had to be conveyed in a way that captured the pain from the woman's perspective. Production began in July of 2014.

It was lucky then that they brought in Wood, who became friends with Page during pre-production. They became so acquainted with each other's company that they were able to relate to each other on deeply personal levels. This was the perfect tool for two teenage sisters surviving together, occasionally sharing attributes of each other's personality in unexpected ways. Wood was an advocate against female sexual harassment and believed that the film could help present a story that would speak to the next generation and create a conversation around rape that was productive and maybe even changed the industry. The two would live in a house that looked like it fell apart in the third act, but was actually the benefit of special effects. There was nothing about the house that was actually destroyed. Page and Wood would eat small amount of food to understand the struggle that the characters would face.

The famous rape scene had the most story behind anything on production. It was something that had to be handled with a delicate manner. There was a desire not to paint it in any way that would create any positive emotional experiences. As a result, Rozema chose to focus strongly on Wood's face in the scene, not even allowing the man to appear in any state of pleasure. Wood committed to the part, convincing her body of the intimate pain that was being inflicted upon her. She was so committed to the act that her screaming lead her to break her capillaries. When the scene wrapped after one take, it was spoken to the cast and crew on set that the scene wasn't meant to be depressing because it could've been their mother or sister, but that it was a woman in general. The power shined through and became one of the most noteworthy scenes of the film. 

The film played at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015 and would become one of Canada's Top Ten at the festival. It was during this time that A24 bought the rights to the film alongside DirecTV. The film would play in 15 theaters and gross around $10,000 total. It would premiere in July of 2016 on DirecTV, where it would do most of its business. The film received modest reviews on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, earning a 78% overall. For a DirecTV division of A24 release, it was one of the highest rated for the company. April Wolfe of L.A. Weekly lead the positive reviews, claiming that "This isn't torture-porn dystopia; it's a singular, honest, heartfelt portrait of sisterly devotion at the end of the world." Those who disagreed tended to side with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who suggested that "Rozema's minimalist approach pays dividends until a final third hobbled by overdone effects and a thrashing musical score. Too bad. The story being told on the faces of Page and Wood has eloquence and power." Overall, it was a decent film for A24, even if it wasn't a runaway hit.

Into the Forest was another example of the power that A24 would bring in 2016. Even if the film failed to live up to the reputation of the heavy hitters like The Lobster or Swiss Army Man, it was a sign that their second string of films was starting to improve and create an overall vision of a studio at their peak. The film pushed boundaries of what dystopian fiction could be while touching on harrowing subject matter that would do plenty to rattle audiences. While the next film wouldn't be nearly as disturbing or dark, it would continue the trend of secondary films with a charm and energy that helped to set A24 apart from the competitors. Morris From America was a comedy about Americans living abroad, and it would be one of the most upbeat and fun movies that the studio had released in quite some time.

Up Next: Morris From America (2016)

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