Haunted Forest (2007) / Horror
MPAA Rated: R for violence, gore, scary images, language and some drug use
Running time: 82 min.
Cast: Sevi Di Cione, Jennifer Luree, Adam Green, Kira Hitashi, Mark Hengst, Naomi Ueno, Eduardo Beghi, Agim Kaba
Director: Mauro Borrelli
Screenplay: Mauro Borrelli
Review published June 18, 2007
Illustrator and art designer Mauro Borelli (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Dead Man's Chest) takes another stab at writing and directing a movie to poor results. While his conceptual designs and eye for art do lend a smidge of interest to this low-budget horror flick, what the film really lacks is quality in any other department. Essentially, this is an English language version of J-Horror, with a killer you've seen many time before in Asian horror, most notably in English versions like The Ring and The Grudge, to name but two. A few minor twists are thrown in, but for the most part, it looks cheap and feels like a z-grade rip-off of films you're already tired of seeing rehashed in big budget Hollywood productions.
We start off with three men out in a secluded forest looking for a man who has disappeared in that area. They uncover one of the man's photographs, which the trio's leader, Sean (Di Cione, star of Borelli's previous effort, Branches), believes to be the key to an underground burial tomb, as depicted in a mysterious book, left to Sean by his Native American grandfather. As the men look for the tree, they begin to see and feel strange things in the forest, which Sean thinks to be the spirit protector of the tree looking to make sure that no one does it any harm.
You have to be a true-blue lover of b-movie horror to make it through Haunted Forest to its ending. It doesn't offer anything new, it features characters that aren't particularly likeable, and a murky storyline that is never told with an interest in cluing us in as to what we're supposed to be watching for. Borelli uses the back-story of a Native American couple's tragedy to bring forward a sense of dimension to the killings, and while it does have potential, it also feels like a regurgitation of J-horror clichés, where the spirit out for vengeance has a traumatic past that manifests itself in danger for the living.
Haunted Forest is more of a showcase of Borelli's talent at making a horror entry without a great deal money (budgeted at about $100k). Sadly, along with an interesting score, that's about the only thing worth commending this film for. Stiff direction, low-tech special effects, and an atmospheric style can only take you so far in a film. At some point, it's best to give us characters we care about, a story we can dig into, and a climax where we have a rooting interest in the outcome. As far as tales of forest hauntings, this is a far cry from the originality of The Blair Witch Project.
©2007 Vince Leo