Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on January 8, 2016
Directed by Jason Zada
Written by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Rina Takasaki, Noriko Sakura, Yûho Yamashita, James Owen, Jozef Aoki, Nadja Mazalica, Gen Seto
I went into The Forest knowing just three basic things about it: it was a horror movie, it was set in a forest, and the story dealt with a young woman looking for her missing sister. And that last bit was what got me hooked: I love a story that involves a sibling looking for another sibling, or where one sibling rescues another, or sons and daughters seeking revenge for mistreated or murdered parents. I don’t know why it is exactly, but these types of themes in movies always strike an unexplained chord with me.
Natalie Dormer plays Sara, an American who travels to Japan to find her twin sister Jess, who police say was last seen entering the Aokigahara Forest (an actual park near Mt. Fuji), where people lose themselves with the intention of committing suicide. At the hotel where her sister was staying, Sara meets a journalist named Aiden, who offers to help her, and he enlists the aid of his friend Michi, a park guide who knows the region. When the three enter the forest the following morning, Michi makes it clear: be careful, and do not leave the path.
The guide then offers another warning: the forest is haunted by spirits who prey on a person’s sadness. And when afternoon becomes evening, and Michi suggests they leave and return the following day, Sara refuses and insists on continuing the search; though he believes her sister is dead, Sara tells Michi she can ‘feel’ her twin is still alive. Michi departs, but Aiden offers to stay with her through the night, and it’s then the psychological powers of the forest begin to take hold, prompting Sara to become disoriented, illogical, and unfortunately for Aiden, suspicious of him. And from there everything spirals downward, as Sara becomes overwhelmed by the influence and legend of the forest.
I really, really had a good time with this movie, and I was surprised to find that not many others did. I liked the set-up, and the slow build-up to when Sara finally enters the ‘sea of trees’, but I especially enjoyed the anticipation of where it was all headed, and the dread I felt when I realized this was not going to end well for anyone. The forest was made out to be an ominous place, even in daylight, and though Sara’s actions could be seen as unreasonable, and at times downright moronic, you have to remember that she was constantly being swayed by the yūrei. And spirits or not, if I were in her shoes I’d be braving the forest as well, only I wouldn’t remain out there at night, and I’d stay on the freaking path!
The movie had a great look, too; maybe it was just me experiencing my first Blu-ray player, but the cinematography, the use of colors, and the exterior shots of Aokigahara, downtown Tokyo at night, and the quaint locations surrounding the forest were all so sharp and vibrant, I would have enjoyed watching the film for that aspect alone. I thought the direction by Jason Zada, in his feature film debut, was worthy of mention, and I thought Dormer did a commendable job of not only playing both Sara and Jess (in flashback), but making one wonder if her paranoid actions and thoughts were brought on by real situations, or the result of her out-of-control imagination.
I do have one complaint, however, and that would be for the handful of jump scares that really had nothing to do with the story, and to me were included merely for their shock value. Did they work? Yes, and quite well, but they belonged in an entirely different movie…especially in the final shot, which could’ve been quite poignant if it hadn’t been spoiled by a such a typical horror movie device. Beyond that, I thought The Forest deserved much more credit than it’s received, and I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind a horror offering that takes its time, and creates fear using tension and paranoia. I mean, it scared my co-worker half to death…isn’t that incentive enough to give it a try? (7/10)