Director – Jason Zada
Cast – Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Ibuki Kaneda, Yukiyoshi Ozawa
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
When I first learned of this film I was really interested because it plays on something that has fascinated me for years: Japan’s Aokigahara Forest. Also known as the Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees, the land at the northwest base of Mount Fuji has been plagued for decades as a popular location for those wishing to take their lives. There is much fascination surrounding the forest, including the locals believing that angry spirits called Yurei (according to Japanese folklore) roam the grounds. It surprised me that even after America’s fascination with J-horror in the early 2000s, the genre had yet to use the haunting forest until now. I eventually slowed my roll when I saw mounds of negative reviews hit the interweb, and after viewing this myself I am glad I did not rush into it. While the use of the forest did keep me intrigued, the story is a lackluster one with cliche scares and an unfulfilling climax.
The Forest stars Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) as Sara, a woman who embarks to Japan after receiving an unsettling phone call from Japanese authorities about her twin sister’s last known whereabouts – entering the Suicide Forest. Believing that her sister is still alive, Sara stops at nothing to enter the forest and save her sister, coming face to face with horrors she never saw coming.
While I knew this would likely be an unfavorable experience I was still hooked on the idea of watching film involving the Aokigahara Forest. The story is credited to three writers and much to my surprise they took their time developing the film. it doesn’t take long for Sara to make her way to Japan, however it isn’t until the halfway mark that the horror starts flowing. There are random jump scares here and there, but at the 45 minute mark she decides to disregard the advice of the locals and stay the night looking for her sister. Aside from angry spirits lurking the woods after sunset the locals warn her that opposing forces will leave her questioning her sanity. This proves to be the case as once the horror hits we see our protagonists quarrel over stupid things because one things the other is lying to them. You don’t know what is real and what is a hallucination, so yeah this becomes one “those” films. I personally wanted to see more paranormal action and less of the psychological horror, but that is just me. The story comes with the usual cliches and they worsen when the breakdown between characters occurs. This breakdown between characters isn’t just figurative though, it is metaphorically accurate as well as little time is spent on Sara’s sister. Obviously the story centers around Sara but we are given only minor details about her sister and what lead her to fall off the deep end. While there are some decent moments during the film’s latter half its final sequence is an annoying one. Not only does it employ numerous cliches but it ends on a very weak note that bleeds “Hollywood” horror.
Director Jason Zada created waves with his 2011 short film Take This Lollipop – a pseudo PSa about how we display too much private information on the internet. After co-writing The Houses October Built he makes his feature debut here and does a decent job. To start, his atmosphere is solid. From start to finish I enjoyed the gloomy feel that expanded from Sara’s home in the USA to the land that gave us J-horror. Filmed in Japan, the forest used provided for a spooky feel that I enjoyed, excelling during both day and night scenes. Zada creates a very solemn, solitary feel that leaves you feeling like our protagonists are the only living things in the forest. As far as the horror goes it is OK at best. Good atmosphere made the scares bearable, but cliche jump scares don’t do it for anyone anymore. I did enjoy the look of the ghosts but in the end they were not used to full potential. As I said earlier, the ghosts take a back seat to psychological horror – which does stem from the supernatural. The acting performances are decent at best, with Natalie Dormer taking on the roles of Sara and her twin sister Jess. A film like this will force the lead to go through emotional extremes, and while this is the case her performance is not that compelling.
Overall, The Forest is a flick I wanted to like thanks to its use of the Aokigahara Forest, which for me is a first of its kind. Sadly, a mediocre story kept it from reaching the potential provided by its setting.