In Canadian auteur Patricia Rozema’s harrowing new film, set in an unspecified near-future, two young sisters’ dreams are brought to a sudden halt when a power outage strikes, leaving them and their devoted dad stranded in their house somewhere in the Northern California woods. At first, it seems like a routine disruption, but through radio reports and one nail-biting trip into town, they realize that they are facing a widespread shutdown.
Déjá-vu-inducing setup aside, this is not your typical apocalyptic tale. In lieu of virus outbreaks and violent lootings, the story focuses firmly on what takes place within the family home. Attempting to preserve the status quo, Nell (Ellen Page), the more practical of the two, continues to study for the SATs by candlelight, while Eva (Evan Rachel Wood), the more selfishly obsessive, dances away in preparation for an audition. But when their father is killed in a grisly chainsaw accident, they are left to their own devices.
As the days and months elapse, we are immersed in intense isolation with the two girls—and the occasional visitor—as they face starvation and shelter that is literally collapsing in on them. While Page and Wood hardly look like sisters, their commanding, utterly believable performances remove any doubt. Nell and Eva’s relationship forms the heart of the film and, along with the fleeting moments of ecstasy they find in things previously taken for granted—eating a piece of chocolate, watching home movies—their bond provides something of genuine beauty in a progressively bleak world.