Deep in the Forest  Review: A Corny Political Thriller That Aims Big
Deep in the Forest (2022) Review: The late 60s and early 70s were turbulent periods in the US. Vietnam war raged on, and the government continued to conscript young boys into the army. The counterculture movement intensified to establish civil rights, end state-sponsored violence, liberate sexual expression and protest against the war that killed young men. Expressing the extent of the government’s apathy, Peter Watkins came up with his docufiction Punishment Park. That film continues to stand as a fierce political statement. It puts into perspective how propaganda blankets reality, disillusions people into believing in a cause that actively harms them, and persecutes the marginalized. Punishment Park offers an alternate reality by concentrating on and metaphorizing different events. However, the leaps of faith are well earned.
Jeremy Dylan Lanni’s Deep in the Forest immediately reminded me of Punishment Park with its premise. The political urgency is established without a wait, and the affiliations are spelled out for the characters who will inhabit the screen. However, there is no buildup prior to the beginning of the central arc. This warrants the audience to believe in the information as it is vocalized. Almost everything on which the narrative is founded is more vocalized than visualized.
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Deep in the Forest often appears to be experimental political porn that breaks into acts of survival rather than sex after a series of dialogues that make space for action deriding logic and violating coherent succession. This becomes the source of a peculiar problem: a disjoint suspension of disbelief. In a few vulnerable moments, you do manage to believe in the established situation, but you find it too corny in all other moments. And in all such moments, the gravity is lost. When the gravity is lost, the sequences become akin to simulations created to propel the film further along the course. We know what is happening but we do not quite feel the effect of the happenings on the characters. The acting by the cast does not help either. Everyone in the ensemble performs the script for the screen. While no part of it indicates incompetence, the dialogues’ performative nature and predictable placement make the screenplay funny. The humorous tone the film inadvertently acquires due to how it has been scripted damages the sobriety of its intention.
Deep in the Forest can be considered a chamber survival drama reminiscent of Birdbox and It Comes at Night in parts. Akin to the other titles set in the wake of mysterious apocalyptic events that are not accommodated or exposed on screen, Deep in the Forest moulds political unrest to mimic a civil apocalypse. Now, the political leaning of the film appears to be on the left, against a conservative right increasingly becoming fascist. The ensemble of characters consists only of democrats but from diverse ethnic and professional backgrounds. But as the narrative unfolds within the confines of a strict survival thriller, it starts to confuse. This is when you begin to question the narrative choice of making this a chamber survival thriller than one in which a group actively engages with the threat, such as that in Cloverfield or Punishment Park.
Is it to slyly argue that this group might stand on the pacifist side of the ideological spectrum, but if it is rendered vulnerable and hungry, it will act exactly how the state does? It will also latch onto the means of power to establish superiority. It will also violate human dignity, notwithstanding people’s racial and ethnic attributes. It will also succumb to toxicity when everything comes down to the survival of the fittest. I am not trying to draw wild tangents. A few dialogues by characters questioning the difference between them and us somehow confirm my doubts about the film’s agenda. Even if the intentions were radical, the narrative choices make it centrist as the state only remains a threat in conversations. It is never translated onscreen. Having said that, this may be merely an outcome of budgetary constraints.
The runtime of the film is brief. The film is edited in a way that it goes from one event to another, hastily aiming for a conclusion. There are some earnest moments that don’t let the film become a failed experience. The biggest merit will always be ambition, even if it is not translated efficiently. Therefore, Jeremy Dylan Lanni will continue to remain a promising filmmaker for the time to come.