When you think about it, Japan’s famous Suicide Forest is really the perfect place to set a horror film. A common suicide site, and one that has a historic association with angry ghosts of the dead – it practically screams for a scary movie. Sadly, The Forest somehow takes this premise and shapes it into a sub-par horror that might make you jump but not much else.
When her twin sister goes missing in Japan, a young American named Sara (Natalie Dormer) is determined to find out what happened to her. Her investigation leads her to the legendary Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji. Accompanied by expatriate Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and park guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), she heads into the forest to search. Although she is warned to stay on the path, she soon winds up in the mysterious wilderness, confronted by the angry and tormented souls of the dead.
This is formulaic to the extreme, failing to do anything new or anything particularly effectively. As is typical of many a modern horror, it relies heavily on jump scares in place of generating any actual tension and, incredibly frustratingly, it adds in dream just so it can end them with a jolt. There are more than a few sequences ending with something heading towards Natalie Dormer, and her waking with a start – it is not the best sign when a movie has so little to offer, it needs to shoehorn these in.
I like Natalie Dormer – I’ve seen her in a bunch of things, and she’s normally very good, so I don’t know what was going on here. It’s hard to tell if she is playing it so stoically that she seems to only have the one blank reaction to anything and everything, or whether she simply can’t be bothered. I suspect it’s the latter, and she is cashing in on her Game of Thrones popularity to get an easy pay check. Early moments serve to present her as a somewhat rude and out-of-place foreigner, and then her only trace of personality is a twin superpower which enables her to intuit that her sister is alive.
The lack of any investment in Sara means that her story lacks any kind of engagement – we are just watching her go through the motions, passing from one jump scare to the next, heading to a conclusion that is so pre-ordained you could probably guess where we’re heading before Sara’s plane even reaches the East. The movie wants you to think of it as a slow-burner, but it isn’t – rather, it is a shambler of a film that lurches forward does because that’s what it should do.
Similarly, the character of Aiden is boring as can be – a lot of the intended twists rely on the viewer’s attitudes to him and to Sara, but if the movie does little with her, his character development is sand in the wind. Perhaps if the forest were quite the character it could have been, that would have compensated, but the film does little there too. Any viewer of horror films knows that forests can be the scariest place in the world if they’re presented right, and it isn’t here. A film called The Forest should at least get that right, but just tossing in the odd weird noise and a random Japanese schoolgirl isn’t sufficient.
In many ways, The Forest feels like a template for a horror film – the pieces may be there for something good, but it is let down in all departments. The script is lacking and predictable, the acting is bland, the scares are non-existent. Maybe you’ll jump one or twice, but there’s nothing more to it than that – this is throwaway horror, perhaps one to stumble across on the horror channels in the middle of the night, but definitely not one to seek out.
Director: Jason Zada
Cast: Natalie Dormer (Sara/Jess Price), Eoin Macken (Rob), Stephanie Vogt (Valerie), Noriko Sakura (Mayumi), Yuho Yamashita (Sakura), Taylor Kinney (Aiden)
Running Time: 93 Mins