Welcome to 2016! My first movie of the year is the horror film The Forest. Let’s get right to it, shall we?
Starring Natalie Dormer as Sara Price, the film follows her as she searches Aokigahara Forest for her missing twin Jess (also played by Natalie Dormer). While everyone she encounters believes Jess is already dead because of how long she’s been missing, Sara refuses to give up. She claims that, as identical twins, she can sense that Jess is still alive.
Why do people simply assume that Jess is dead because she’s been missing for three days? Well, because Aokigahara Forest is also known as Suicide Forest, a real place in Japan located at the base of Mt. Fuji. For several decades this is where people have travelled to take their lives. It’s a genuinely haunting place that has a real, depressing history, so it makes sense that Hollywood would want in on the action and use it as a horror movie backdrop. (Note: the movie was filmed at Tara Mountain, Serbia because Japanese authorities would not permit filming within Aokigahara.)
Once Sara learns that Jess is missing she flies to Japan, intent on searching the woods for her sister. Initially she is unable to find anyone willing to help her until she runs into Aiden (Taylor Kinney), an American who writes for an Australian travel magazine. (Because why not?) He also claims to know one of the park rangers who regularly goes into Aokigahara to look for bodies, marking their locations for pick-up and burial.
Not a bad set-up for a horror movie, right? Well, my friend, if you’ve read any of my previous horror film reviews, you would know that I am a huge fan of disappointing the reader after a paragraph or two of hope.
Once the film finally gets Sara, Aiden, and park ranger Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) into the forest, things start to take a bit of a turn. Instead of sticking with the usual horror tropes (of which there are still too many), it tries to add elements of mystery and suspense. Think of a backwards-paced Audition, if you will. Instead of upping the scares, this dilutes the entire movie with unnecessary twists and turns.
As far as acting goes, there are really only two main characters: Sara and Aiden. Natalie Dormer does what she can with her role, and I’m sure the promise of playing two different people was a big factor in drawing her to this film, but she’s not compelling in a horror setting. Her reactions to most of the ‘scary’ moments are more of a wide-eyed surprise than fear, which ruins those few moments that could have been legitimately scary. Why should the audience be frightened if the actors aren’t?
Taylor Kinney, meanwhile, was too unreadable. Without going into spoiler territory, he was not convincing when the script asked him to lend any emotional heft.
Whether it’s the fault of director Jason Zada (and it must be noted that The Forest is his first full-length film) or the actors, there’s nothing compelling in the acting or the script.
And the scares? All jump-scares. That’s not a spoiler, that’s just me informing the audience not to expect any haunting dread.
I don’t know why there’s this sudden fascination with American filmmakers wanting to set their movies in Aokigahara, but this is the third film in five years to do so (following 2015’s The Sea of Trees by Gus Van Sant and 2011’s Forest of the Living Dead). I am in no way knocking the horrors of a place where people go to kill themselves. Just the fact that this is a real place is far more terrifying than anything in The Forest itself.
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney
Written by: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai
Directed by: Jason Zada
Running time: 93 minutes
Taras D. Butrej is the go-to guy for all the movies nobody else wants to see. Some people believe his levels of masochism cannot be measured. When he's not busy being disappointed in the theater he can be found talking video games on The SML Podcast or talking television on YouTube. He also has a job, but that's not important right now.