Gilles Marchand’s brooding Into the Forest invokes The Shining and numerous spooky-wood based movies, but it just about holds it own.
The opening scene of Into the Forest features the 8 year-old Tom recounting to a child psychologist his fears about going to visit his estranged father. The psychologist explains he’s merely feeling “apprehensive.” Tom however suggests that his fears are in fact premonitions.
It’s a neatly creepy opener that also mirrors my own feelings about having to sit through the… *quietly does some mental arithmetic* – 3 billionth forest-based scary movie in the last four weeks. However unlike the frenzied pace of Blair Witch or the sheer crapness of Lake Bodom, Into the Forest takes a quietly menacing approach to charting its own doom-laden course through the woods.
Tom and Ben are young brothers travelling from France to visit their father in Sweden who they haven’t seen since their parents divorced. The father is an intimidatingly intense man who doesn’t sleep, and whose idea of fun is dragging the two boys out to his cabin in the woods for an undetermined length of time.
At best, the boys are pissed off there’s no electricity or mobile phone reception. At worst, the father becomes obsessed in a belief that his youngest son Tom has the same gift as he does – a vague sense of telepathy and the ability to see a ‘hidden world’ – and the father will do anything to unlock this power.
What follows is a tortuous exercise in waiting to see what happens first. The father finally cracking, or the boys figuring out they’ve essentially been kidnapped by an increasingly unhinged and jealous man whose rank humourlessness is possibly a worse crime than the quasi-kidnapping.
Into the Woods’ pacing is both it’s strength and its weakness. Its funereal march into the unknown is what sets it apart from other similar movies, but there are only so many times we can watch one man’s Fitzcarraldo-lite struggle dragging a rowing boat across countless hills. The father’s intensity is also rather one-note, he elicits very little sympathy even in his more vulnerable moments.
Thankfully it’s the two young boys that bear the burden of making the film interesting. Timothé Vom Dorp’s performance as the wide-eyed Tom and Théo Van de Voorde’s cynical but quietly heroic older brother are the stand-out elements of the movie. Tom, with his mop-haircut, psychic abilities, insane father and sheer look of terror, will of course remind you of Danny Torrance from The Shining. But Vom Dorp’s entirely naturalistic performance helps erase any feelings of deja-vu.
Tom’s vision of what he perceives to be ‘The Devil’ – a horrifically disfigured man emerging from the shadows – follows him throughout the journey. It’s this battle with the real and the imagined that creates Tom’s aforementioned apprehension, and it’s this ambiguity that permeates the atmosphere of the entire movie.
It’s just a shame Into the Forest runs out of steam by the final-third, and the ambiguity that once facilitated its more genuinely disturbing moments leads to an unsatisfying conclusion that lacks any logical sense or power. Up until that point however, Into the Forest is a chilling and interesting variation on well-trodden ground.
And if it stops just one father who suspects their child of having spooky powers, from dragging them into a forest to unlock their terrifying potential, and instead offers the kid another bowl of Cocoa Pops and a hug, then Into the Forest has done its job. 3/5