For starters, this movie is classified as science fiction. As a big fan of science fiction, I can unequivocally tell you that, in no way, shape, or form is this movie science fiction. Here’s the movie summary from IMDb – “After a massive power outage, two sisters learn to survive on their own in their isolated woodland home.” Apparently, anything considered apocalyptic is science fiction and Arthur C. Clarke just rolled over in his grave. The power outage is never explained, there are no aliens lurking in the woods, and nobody is driving hovercars or teleporting around the country. In fact, the sisters’ (and father’s) mode of transportation is an old Jeep Cherokee. Does that sound like science fiction? Of course it doesn’t – science fiction requires science (somebody should tell that to the SyFy channel in regards to some of their “movies”).
But the bigger reason I can’t identify an audience for the film is because the film has no plot. And I don’t mean a thin plot or a convoluted plot, I mean zero plot. That summary I read you is literally the entire movie. Let me expound a little to prove it (and by prove it I mean some SPOILERS).
Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) live with their father, Robert (Callum Keith Rennie) in the deep northwest (USA, or Canada) woods, away from the nearest town. We know they’re secluded because they tell us that it is a three-day walk to town. Nell is studying for some exam that she doesn’t need to take, explaining that “I just want to know if I would have got in.” Her only other interest is her boyfriend, Eli (Max Minghella), because she’s a horny teenager (which kind of explains the test thing). Eva is a ballet dancer practicing for a national competition, but also trying to recover from a past knee injury. This is the only thing that matters to her as their house has a dance studio in it. Robert is a Mr. Fix-it kind of guy, but the kind who thinks covering holes in the roof with a tarp is a good idea for a house in a very soggy climate. This stuff only matters because you will spend the first hour of the movie watching them do these things (dad’s lack of attention to detail leads to a predictable chain saw accident leaving the two sisters on their own), but without electricity. After dad is gone (much earlier in the film), we get to see that the word “learn” in that movie summary is kind of a lie.
The truth is they survive doing as little as possible. Apparently, Robert was a doomsday prepper because the girls survive for fifteen months almost exclusively on food stored in the house. To be fair, they have chickens (that don’t last) and plant some pumpkin seeds, but it doesn’t occur to them to start foraging in the forest until several months into the blackout. Even worse, we are told there are wild pigs running around and they don’t hunt them until month fourteen. Wait – that can’t be right. One, two…yep, fourteen months. (Who wouldn’t go searching for live, fresh bacon?!) But the food is just the tip of the iceberg. Remember the tarps I mentioned? Those never get replaced by actual wood or metal to seal up the house and the film shows us the black mold growing throughout the house. And, yes, this leads to the house literally falling down around them. They also chop wood every now and then, but that’s the extent of any survival activities going on with this family. Even after several weeks of the power not returning and dad’s death, these girls continue studying and dancing as if those things are still going to happen (yes, I get that some people would live in denial, but this was a little over the top), rather than doing anything to survive.
Survival means arguing over gas to listen to music.
As the movie drug on and I checked the time every three minutes (this might be the slowest movie I have ever seen), I wondered if they were ever going to get to a point. As it turns out, they do, but probably the worst and most unexpected point you could imagine. As it turns out, Robert was not a good planner beyond stockpiling food. Case in point, they own a generator because it’s prudent to own such a thing when you live in the boonies, but didn’t stockpile any fuel (nor any for their car). Wait, so dad thought to save food, but not gas? Early in the blackout, they drive into town to stock up on goods and he’s able to purchase just five gallons of gas. That’s their entire fuel supply, which includes if they decide to drive to town and back again. The gas leads to fighting between the sisters (Eva wants to use her share to play music while she practices dancing) because, say it with me friends – contrivance. The movie was so dull they needed a reason for the sisters to fight, even though it might be the dumbest reason ever concocted considering the scenario (though points to how incompetent these two women are).
Anyway, there are three semi-interesting things that happen in the movie from the time dad dies until the credits role. The first is when Eli shows up and asks them to go with him to Boston. There’s a rumor that Boston is back up and running, but Eva doesn’t want to leave because, sometimes, you just gotta dance (also, she balks at the eight-month walking trip). Nell decides to go, but not until after getting naked with Eli in a hollowed out tree stump-turned childhood fort. I note this because we get to see all of Ellen Page and she is definitely successful enough in her career to not need to do nude scenes. Of course, Nell changes her mind and returns, though without Eli.
I hope they didn't get any splinters.
The second thing is when a creepy dude from town shows up and rapes Eva. Yes, the movie was so bored with itself that it needed a rape to get our attention back. Like the fighting over the gas, this scene is totally contrived, also because of the gas. The guy that sold them the gas is the rapist and he walked three days to their house, deep into the woods, why? For enough gas to get him back to town and a little further when he could have just walked the other direction to begin with? And, Nell was out in the forest picking berries all by herself because it makes total sense for them not to go out into a dangerous place together. But, hey, where two contrivances are good, three is better, as this leads to the third thing and the message this movie wanted to convey – abortion is bad. I told you you wouldn’t see that coming.
After both Nell and Eva realize Eva is pregnant, Nell cracks a book to learn about abortions and when she mentions to Eva that they should discuss their options, Eva immediately fires back “I’m keeping this baby. It’s not responsible for its dad’s actions.” Nell opens her mouth to argue, but Eva shoots her down and they move on with no more discussion. This is the point in the movie where I was internally cussing (okay, externally as well). Forget about how you feel about abortion for a moment – this movie is asking us to swallow Eva being cognizant enough to argue pro-life despite being a shell of a human due to the trauma of being raped (she even refuses to eat) and immediately returning to that shell after the argument. And that’s on top of them having little to no food, a decrepit house, and the fear of the rapist (or anyone else for that matter) showing up again, which Nell doesn’t even bring up even though she was extremely practical in the gas argument. It’s bad enough that the movie was dull, but to become incoherent and preachy destroyed what little narrative this movie attempted to have.
(Side note: for the record, had the argument been pro-choice I would have reacted the same way. The fact that Eva gets pregnant at all is a shitty element, especially since they make a big deal out of Nell not getting pregnant earlier in the movie. If Nell had gotten pregnant, it would have sort of fit in with them continually making bad decisions to survive.)
My expression during the entire film.
Between the lack of plot, interminably boring stretches of movie, unsympathetic characters, and stupid political content (not to mention a complete lack of even marketing this movie), I can’t even begin to guess at who might enjoy this movie. A little research reveals that the movie is based on a book of the same title (by Jean Heglund), published in 1996. It sold 100,000 copies, meaning it wasn’t even a popular book, and I have a hard time believing that many of those people even know it was adapted into a movie (nor, do I suspect, would they care). If the movie is anything like the book, I guess the people who should watch this movie are the people who were able to read the book in its entirety. So, Heglund’s mom?
Rating: Ask for your all of your money and time back. This movie isn’t for you.