The Forest, 2016.
Directed by Jason Zada.
Starring Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Taylor Kinney, and Yukiyoshi Ozawa.
A young woman searches for her twin sister in a Japanese forest only to find herself surrounded by paranormal forces.
The Forest desperately wants to be intelligent psychological horror but fails at every corner. A solid premise is present; you have a real life suicide forest located around Mount Fuji in Aokigahara, Japan with ill-intended spirits haunting the surroundings. Their goal is to provoke insanity, cause distrust among peers, and generally coax its wandering and depressed lost souls to commit harmful acts of atrocity. It’s all grounded in Japanese mythology, making for an intriguing pitch; execution is another story.
The problem is that the script doesn’t function as effective horror, a tense thriller, or gripping drama on any level. Plaguing the proceedings is woefully bad dialogue regarding Sara (played by Natalie Dormer of Game of Thrones fame) insisting that she has an unbelievably mystical semblance of sibling intuition that pushes her into the titular forest to locate her sister, whom she’s warned is probably dead anyway. People go to this place to off themselves; the end. It’s nice that Sara cares deeply about her twin sister, but the horrible lines here won’t make anyone believe for a second that her character would rationally come to the decision to investigate such a seemingly haunted location. The script spends all of five minutes getting Sara from America to Japan.
And once she gets to Japan, immediately come some laughably stupid jump scares of elderly Asian people crashing into focus. When Japanese folks aren’t acting bonkers, viewers will be getting loads of expository dialogue exchanges between characters that will make you feel as if you are a tourist of the forest rather than embarking on a fright-fest full of twists. Everything occurring here would be 10X more interesting if the movie simply showed actions and not people chatting about what’s lurking in the woods and other deaths. Another good analogy is that watching The Forest is surfing a Wikipedia article on Japan’s Aokigahara forest.
Natalie Dormer also doesn’t give a very convincing performance at times, but when her lines are simply to say “what” or acting surprised, well, it’s not really her fault. Her entire character just does things, many of them stupid, without a reasonable thought process. I understand this is par for the course in horror, but it’s unfortunate because The Forest has a concrete concept. The entire movie just crumbles before itself without even a chance to gain momentum thanks to the aforementioned terrible script; it truly has no earthly idea what to do with these characters or story besides have people talk while mixing in some jump-scares.
There are two saving graces of the film, with one of them being a male journalist Sara befriends, that to the surprise of no one, sticks along with her for the exploration/investigation as a courageous effort to earn her affection. What’s unintentionally humorous though is that Sara already has a boyfriend, granted he sees so little screen-time that you have to wonder why he even exists, Where the journalist story arc does succeed however, is with broad strokes of ambiguity that paint him as both genuine and someone with more sinister intentions.
It won’t be to everyone’s liking that the truth never really fully comes out, but it’s the only aspect of the haunting where you actually sense the danger of the forbidden forest. You’re not sure which character is insane, under paranormal manipulation, or hallucinating, which momentarily works, until the ending just ruins everything. It’s predictable, stupid, and so cliché you can probably guess it from the trailers. Like much of the movie, it also heavily relies on ridiculous plot conveniences.
The practical makeup effects on display for the demonic spirits patrolling the forest are also very grotesque. The apparitions themselves feel underutilized unfortunately, mostly serving as objects to pop up out of nowhere for a cheap scare, but no one can say the filmmakers didn’t try adding a little edge and nastiness to their physical appearances. Plus, Japanese schoolgirls aimlessly stumbling around a suicide forest is a pretty unsettling sight.
Also, since it’s a hot topic with modern mainstream filmmaking, I’d like to mention that, yes, it is nice that The Forest doesn’t whitewash its admittedly few Japanese personalities for Western actors, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t make a difference; the movie still isn’t very good. Whether something is whitewashed or not, a great deal of fellow critics seriously need to grow up and judge a film on quality alone.
Unfortunately, quality cannot be found in The Forest. If you want to go searching for it, I won’t stop you, considering that the movie fails at depicting the place scary anyway. What I will remember most is one of the most ludicrous jump-scares in the history of modern horror; a crazy Japanese man, mouth wide open, leaping into camera focus, smashing his hands on the passenger window of a taxi. Totally pissed my pants there… laughing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★