The Forest (2016) / Horror-Mystery
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken, Rina Takasaki
Director: Jason Zada
Screenplay: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai
Review published January 10, 2016
Using the Aokigahara forest (aka The Suicide Forest, or Sea of Trees) near Mount Fuji in Japan, a real place where many people have actually committed suicide, as inspiration, The Forest spins a tale of twin sisters, Sara and Jess, both played by Natalie Dormer (Mockingjay Part 1, Part 2), who attempt to be reunited when Jess ends up missing, last seen conducting a school field trip in that forest where lost souls never return, at least not in living form.
Sara travels 6,000 miles from America to go find her because, being her twin, she innately knows Jess isn't dead, even if everyone else seems to think there's no hope. Before she ventures into that dangerous forest, she meets and befriends Aiden (Kinney, The Other Woman), a travel journalist who offers to accompany her, along with a Japanese guide named Michi (Ozawa, The Hidden Blade), in exchange for interviewing her for the story. However, the forest is haunted by the yurei, ghosts of those who've perished before, whose sole purpose seems to be to get others to join them by preying on their despair.
The Forest is a PG-13 horror flick, which, these days, means that it's merely going to be a haunting setup to a series of repetitive jump-scares that occur in place of interesting characterizations or genuinely suspenseful fright. If you've seen your share of these kinds of movies, the moments when these booga-booga moments occur will offer little surprise, as any slow build-up to opening something or walking into a dark corner with only one source of light it a sure tip-off that a gruesome image accompanied with an unpleasantly loud, piercing noise is about to take place. It's not a story so much as an excuse for a sensory experience for those who are titillated by sharp moments of fear.
Much of the forest action in The Forest isn't actually set in Japan, where filming in the Aokigahara forest is forbidden with a few exceptions, which relegates the outdoors action in the wooded forests of Serbia's Tara National Park. As real people have killed themselves in the real-life location, there's a sensitivity there for the locals that is largely missing from this tone-deaf excuse for cheap scares. Still, the forest environs are beautifully shot, and make for an especially creepy atmosphere if one were to be stuck there alone at night, which ups the eeriness that the film needs when there isn't much going on in the plot itself to jolt us in our seats beyond the standard jack-in-the-box moments.
It's a rare lead performance for Natalie Dormer, who has benefitted of late in wildly popular properties like The Hunger Games flicks and HBO's "Game of Thrones", isn't quite ready to make the case that she should be given more chances to put her name above the title on the movie poster, even if her performance is adequate for the kind of movie this is. What makes The Forest especially generic outside of the locale is that it follows all of the usual tropes. If the locals warn not to stay in the forest at night, or never to veer off of the paths, you can bet your bottom dollar that our heroine is going to do both, and suffer for it.
Neither especially good nor abysmally awful, The Forest fails because it's dull and without imagination, content to keep serving low-grade scares because there are just enough undiscriminating horror fans out there who will continue to reward Hollywood with their dollars by letting the studios know that they don't really have to churn out anything above mediocre in quality to make their meager shooting budgets back tenfold.
©2016 Vince Leo