UK Release Date: 26th February 2016
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Jason Zada
Writer: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Eoin Macken, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Rina Takasaki, Stephanie Vogt
Synopsis: An American woman travels to a Japanese “suicide forest” in order to track down her fun-loving twin sister, who she believes may have entered the woods with the intention of taking her own life.
It has not exactly been a banner year for horror cinema so far and, in fact, the most interesting entries in the genre have been the kiddie-friendly Goosebumps and the genre-bending Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. With its use of a creepy real Japanese location as a backdrop for its tale of terror, The Forest seemed like a promising candidate to turn the year around. Sadly, it’s just another disappointing succession of lazy jump scares and loud noises.
Sara (Natalie Dormer) receives a phone call from police in Japan, who believe that her twin sister Jess (Dormer again) might have committed suicide after being seen entering the Aokigahara Forest. Sara decides to fly to Japan and enter the forest to find her sister. At her hotel, she meets travel reporter Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who offers to help her through the forest with the help of local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). When the group comes across Jess’ tent, Sara decides that she is going to stay in the forest until she can find her twin.
It’s clear from the start of The Forest that everyone signed up as a result of the intriguing central concept, which could have been the recipe for real scares if properly executed. Unfortunately, the final product does not work at all. Despite game work from all involved, it simply isn’t scary enough and this exposes the use of the real Aokigahara location as a rather exploitative filmmaking trip. The appropriation of a genuine tragedy could have been forgiven were this anything other than a cheap piece of horror trash.
It’s hard to explain, but I can just feel it. She’s in trouble, and she needs me.
It’s something of a shame that this marks Natalie Dormer’s first major leading role on the big screen after her success in Game of Thrones. She has done remarkable work over the last few years with supporting turns in the likes of The Riot Club and the final two Hunger Games films. She’s evidently trying very hard in The Forest, but the film barely gives her so much as a morsel to work with across two roles. It’s tough to add depth as an actor when the characters’ main characteristics seem to be their hair colour – blonde for the sensible, innocent one and jet black for the edgier, more adventurous sibling.
Supporting performers fare no better, with Taylor Kinney sidelined with a generic hunk role that threatens depth at times, but is never fully fleshed out. Meanwhile, Rina Takasaki is given a couple of opportunities to be genuinely creepy and the scenes involving her are the film’s highlights, evoking the J-horror chills of the likes of Ringu and Audition.
These flashes of excitement are unfortunately never followed through as The Forest rushes towards a frantic and nonsensical conclusion. The patient build-up of the opening hour or so is swiftly abandoned in favour of loud noises, creepy faces and bizarre decisions that are seemingly supposed to amount to plot twists. Story threads are frantically pulled together and several seem to simply resolve themselves without any input from the other characters. It’s as if the script was running a dozen pages too long and everything had to be wrapped up in time for a near-90-minute runtime.
I don’t know if this forest made you psycho or you were always this crazy.
The Forest takes an intriguing and potentially cinematic real story and imbues it with a selection of characters who could not be less interesting. The setting could have been a living character in its own right, but the finished film instead focuses on things that go bump in the night and generic attempts to make the audience jump. For every moment that sends a chill down the spine, there’s something lazy and noisy to break whatever tension director Jason Zada had managed to create.
Pop or Poop?
The Forest feels like a film made by committee, with too many cooks creating a distinctly spoiled broth. This is not a fitting leading role for an actress as talented as Natalie Dormer and is a waste of her considerable talents, giving her a dual turn that consists only of stereotypes. It’s at its best when it nods to J-horror, but there’s the nagging sense that this film would have been better made by a native filmmaker.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.