Halloween may be over, but that doesn't mean you can't still watch scary movies. At the same time, you may be worn and weary of ghosts and masked slashers. So what if I told you that there was a horror movie on Netflix that isn't conventionally scary, but has more fear and tension than your average cheap thriller?
Into the Forest, Patricia Rozema's feminist horror film starring Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page, isn't just the sci-fi movie you need to watch on Netflix before it leaves this week on November 6. It's a movie that might actually change your mind on what a "horror" movie should look like.
Before you queue this movie up on Netflix, it's worth noting that Into the Forest contains a portrayal of sexual assault that may be triggering to some. If that's something you'd rather avoid, you should probably skip this movie.
An adaptation of Jean Hegland's 1996 book, Into the Forest was released in 2015 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Set in the near future, the film tells the story of two sisters, Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) who survive a global power outage in their remote northern California home.
In a twist from masculine survival stories, where the plot is always about going somewhere else (usually rumors of a place with water and electricity) and fighting danger along the way, Into the Forest keeps its characters in one place for as long as it can. This also means, yes, it's kind of a quarantine movie, a concept we're all exhausted of right about now. (Take comfort there aren't any disease subplots and hopefully Into the Forest remains tolerable.)
It took The Walking Dead several seasons before its characters learned to stay in one place and farm for food. Meanwhile, it takes Into the Forest minutes to arrive at that logical decision, and how it goes about it is both wonderfully refreshing and visually repulsive. (Watch as Ellen Page hunts pigs and harvests their guts to make soap. It's pretty gnarly.) But staying in one place doesn't mean the characters are immune from harm. There are predators who lurk in the darkness, and it doesn't take long for them to make themselves known.
What makes Into the Forest so special is the tangible bond between Nell and Eva. On paper, it's a movie with two bickering young adult sisters who learn to grow and love each other through traumatic ordeals — even when you see what sort of harrowing trauma they go through, the narrative arc is rather standard issue. Where Into the Forest gets most of its voltage is in the performances of top-notch actors like Wood and Page — the latter of whom performs Into the Forest as if it's the movie version of The Last of Us — who elevate the material into something raw and naked. Into the Forest is, simply put, a powerful movie and dark movie about love and devotion.
Into the Forest is also a "horror" movie unlike any other. There are no ghosts or jump scares. There's no supernatural entity causing the girls to go mad. Ain't no demons or aliens within miles. Really, there's nothing traditionally "scary" in Into the Forest.
What Rozema brings to her movie instead is tension and fear that something is always going to go wrong. Whether it's the lingering shots of a chainsaw, the creepy vibes of a hardware store employee, or the predictable behaviors of a supporting character a friend of mine (who watched the movie with me via Teleparty) labeled a "fuckboi," Into the Forest's terrors are things that are capital-R real. It's an apocalypse survival story that doesn't weaponize zombies or medical conspiracies to move its story forward. You don't even learn what caused the outage, and it doesn't matter. All that matters is that for the first time these characters are left to fend for themselves, and they're not going to walk away unscathed.
About a year ago there was some debate about "elevated horror" — something film critics and fans debated endlessly over Twitter with take after take. The idea is that there's a kind of higher tier of horror movies, made more present with recent hits like Get Out or Hereditary, that is above slasher films, torture porn, and found footage indies. "Is 'elevated horror' a real thing, or is it just a reductive way of forcing a high/low hierarchy onto a genre that has always struggled to be taken seriously?" asked David Ehrlich at IndieWire. The debate ended with no real consensus, although it was always clear it was a reductive debate that diminished the history of the genre.
I hesitate to say whether Into the Forest is "elevated horror." On one hand, it is an elegant, beautiful movie that ingeniously creates terror and atmosphere in ways 99% of all horror movies do not. On the other hand, the genre elements of the movie barely register. I imagine if Into the Forest had a bigger release and more deceptive marketing campaign with a trailer that wasn't so honest, there'd be pitchforks by average moviegoers complaining they were tricked into seeing a drama that "wasn't really scary." Perhaps then Into the Forest would have been a bigger deal and not the little-seen gem it is now.
Into the Forest is streaming now on Netflix until November 6.