The Forest (2016)
★ / ★★★★
“The Forest,” written by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai, is a most disappointing supernatural horror film despite an interesting premise which involves an actual place in Japan where people go to commit suicide. Instead of focusing on atmosphere, tone, and mood in order to amp up the creepiness of the forest, the writing tends to lean on jump scares, hallucinations, and flashbacks. It is one of those would-be scary movies where it assumes the viewers have not seen other, better horror films that fall within the sub-genre.
When her twin sister goes missing, Sara (Natalie Dormer) takes a flight to Tokyo to find her. Jess (also played by Dormer) is last seen in the Aokigahara Forest and although word has it that she has killed herself despite no sign of her corpse, Sarah feels that she is still alive. With the help of a journalist (Taylor Kinney) and a tour guide (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), Sara comes across her sister’s campsite and insists that she stays the night just in case Jess returns. The tour guide warns her that is not a good idea since the forest likes to play tricks on people, especially those with sadness in their hearts.
Although Dormer creates a character with a convincing air of toughness and determination, the screenplay does not help her in creating a story that is equally involving. As the minutes trickle away, one becomes all the more convinced that the filmmakers do not understand why Japanese movies—at least the memorable ones—are so haunting. The approach is very Westernized in that it fails to build a unique mythos that hooks itself in the mind.
The jump scares, visual effects, and supposedly spooky flashbacks are not well-executed. This is because there is no sense of timing or rhythm to them and so when they are pushed to the center, there is very little to no emotional or visceral impact. Once a punchline is delivered, the material reverts to tired clichés where a character runs, huffs and puffs, and yells “Hello?” in the dark. It turns into a frustrating and boring experience.
Most alive are instances when the camera pans around the forest and provides details. For example, at times one can spot ropes of various colors tied around branches and a character explains that it is a sign that a suicidal person wants to be found either before he kills himself or after the deed has been done so that the body can receive proper burial. Camping out means that a person is still contemplating suicide. Details like these make the story specific. There is not enough of them.
Directed by Jason Zada, “The Forest” contains a solid premise but it appears to wilt at an increasing rate the longer we look at it. There is a clear lack of inspiration here.