A father takes his two children on a trip to a secluded house in a forest and probes his youngest son about mysterious abilities he may have.
Into The Forest is a frustrating watch of two halves. On the one side, it’s an eerie and masterfully mysterious journey that bursts with intrigue and an underlying sense of unease. On the other, it’s an over-long, repetitive tale that amounts to nothing. It promises and promises as it builds and builds to deliver a heart-stopping finish, but instead, opts for something a little more subtle and, honest, severely underwhelming.
Into The Forest begins with a lot of promise. The film paves the way for complex father-son relationships as we are introduced to a father and his two sons Tom and Benjamin. Their relationship is strained due to the split between the parents, leaving them living with their mother in France while their father lives in Sweden. The father is immediately presented as strange; he is convinced that the youngest of his sons, Tom, has the ability to read minds and states that he no longer needs to sleep. It’s bizarre and enthralling, because there is not a cinch of an explanation; who is this man? Is he crazy? Is he a demon or a vampire? The imaginative mind will boggle with possibilities and it’s a treat to be delivered with something that doesn’t feel the need to force-feed its audience information, choosing to drip-feed us with little nuggets of information that act as necessary teases in what would otherwise be a slow-burning, patient unfolding of events.
Much of the film is set in the secluded house which fast becomes a claustrophobic and unbearable space for the children. Their father’s actions get increasingly more sinister, but the film still manages to maintain a level of restraint that it should probably have abandoned. In the beginning it’s enjoyably unsettling, but when we’ve had almost 100 minutes of very little, it’ll become a struggle to keep your eyes open. Instead of focusing so intently on on keeping its audience in the dark, Into The Forest should have invited us in to join the creepy escapades, rather than leaving us on the outside, staring in and hoping it will all make sense in the end.
When it is at its best, Into The Forest is reminiscent of a film from Lars von Trier. There are times when its atmosphere is unbearably unsettling; the hints of a presence in the forest ring similar bells to the subtle, approaching darkness conjured in Antichrist. Sure, it doesn’t have a monster per se, but there’s no denying the woods seems like a horrible place to go when Von Trier is at the helm and these woods feel equally as uninviting. At its worst, Into The Forest feels like pretentious film-making that relies too much on suggestion and enigma to secure interest. There are a couple of scary moments that deliver genuine chills, but they’re not enough to save Into The Forest from being a victim of its own desire to tease, but not follow through. The cinematography is beautiful and the film is shot remarkably, but its desire to play it safe stops Into The Forest from being the eerie masterpiece it so wants to be.
It’s always a shame to leave a film feeling disappointed when it has begun so promisingly. Into The Forest will certainly be appreciated by those that admire open endings; ones that call for another watch or have metaphorical meanings beneath their rushed climax. I, too, am a fan of ambiguous finishes and can appreciate films that want to leave food for thought. Drive’s ending is beautifully symbolic and The Shining has a particularly thoughtful and unnerving finale. However, Into The Forest’s final hurrah was more of a lacklustre whimper. One that felt cowardly and unsure of itself, rather than bold and brave like it had probably hoped. It did not help that the film’s purposefully slow pace began to feel tiresome. Rather than build unnerving tension and intrigue as it did so in the beginning, the narrative began to lose steam and, in the end, it felt like the film went out in a puff of smoke and not the explosion it could have been.
As an interesting exploration of troubled families, Into The Forest does earn its place as one of the most unique and most frustrating. The film’s deliberate cloudy ending and vague explanations may be a mirror of the boys’ struggle to clear the mist and cobwebs from their relationship with their father, but metaphors cannot carry a film and nor can they prevent a feature from feeling sluggish. Into The Forest is commendable for its commitment to obscurity, but it’s lack of punch will render it fairly forgettable.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)