Forests on Film

Josh Winning

Mother Nature is unforgiving – both nurturing and destructive. Never is this more apparent than in savage Sundance hit Beasts of the Southern Wild, which opens on Canadian screens this week. With its young heroine ensconced in the wilderness, where all manner of beasts both human and inhuman dwell, the film got us thinking about other filmic forests and the terrors they often contain…

1. Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997)

Equipped with one of the coolest movie heroines ever, Mononoke is easily among Studio Ghibli’s finest works, exploring not only the feral side of nature, but also the beautiful, intricate balance that gives all things life. Just try and hold back the tears when the Forest Spirit is killed.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

Sort of a modern day Princess Mononoke, Beasts has a puckish heroine and its own mythical creatures in the prehistoric aurochs, which stampede across the globe destroying everything in their path. Echoes of Hurricane Katrina abound…

3. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009)

Based on Maurice Sendak’s 1963 book, Jonze’s film follows nine-year-old Max (Max Records), who takes a ride on the wild side after falling out with his mother. His fantastical journey sees him being crowned king of the Wild Things in a land where few things are certain.

4. Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007)

Emile Hirsch turns his back on the world and heads into the wilderness as disillusioned youngster Christopher McCandless. Living a solitary life, he hunts, lives off the land and records his impressions in a diary. It would be inspiring if it weren’t for the tragic finale.

5. The Company of Wolves (Neil Jordan, 1984)

The real and the unreal collide in this gothic reinterpretation of Angela Carter’s short story The Bloody Chamber. There are also shades of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale, though here the antagonist is actually a werewolf…

6. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)

Nature brings out the worst in grieving couple He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who become one with the rough country and lose their grip on civility. Then there’s a talking fox…

7. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)

"I bet you can squeal like a pig!" Director John Boorman puts the fear of God up every man who's ever been on a camping trip (and a few who haven't, too) as the wilds of the American backcountry provide the perfect setting for Man to unleash his animalistic side. Terrifying.

8. The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)

Something’s gone horribly wrong in this adaptation of the Stephen King tale, as giant, mutated monsters lay siege to the town of Bridgton, Maine, turning it into a veritable urban wilderness of horrors. The real drama comes as each town-person reacts differently to the carnage, and we discover how far David Drayton (Thomas Jane) will go to protect his family.

9. The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2012)

The wilds of Alaska are the least of Liam Neeson and co’s woes in this minimalistic thriller – the airplane crash survivors also attempt to fend off a pack of uber-wolves that’s braying for their blood.

10. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)

Cameron’s sumptuous 3D epic is all about loving your planet. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor for the way we’re currently treating Earth, but with ravishing visuals and some potent 9/11 imagery going on, it’s hard not to get swept up in all the chest-thumping.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshWinning

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