DIRECTOR: Jason Zada
Sara, a young American woman receives a phone call from Tokyo telling her that her twin sister Jess was last seen heading into Aokigahara Forest. The detective informs Sara that the forest is well known for being a place where Japanese people go to take their own lives. Worried for the well-being and safety of her sister, Sara decides to jump on a flight and head to Aokigahara Forest in hopes of bringing her home safe and sound. She will soon discover that the forest holds more than just dead bodies within its surroundings.
When I first got wind that a horror movie was being made about Aokigahara (Suicide Forest), I was absolutely ecstatic. Growing up I always had a fascination with visiting 'scary places' from around the world. I'm one of those people that love reading lists of 'must visit haunted places' or I watch all the paranormal shows and I've even visited places that have made the lists to satisfy my morbid curiosity. I've seen The Catacombs of Paris, I've visited the Quarantine Centre in Sydney and even visited the Hiroshima Museum while I was in Japan. Aokigahara is up there with Auschwitz and Chernobyl in terms of places I must visit before I die.
So when I first saw the trailer for The Forest, I was excited that a movie was being set in a place I've always wanted to visit and been fascinated with. The whole 'mystery' of why people head to this place to take their own lives has me extremely intrigued. I've even seen the Vice documentary where they do a tour into Aokigahara and it's pretty disturbing stuff. It's also fascinating that this forest draws people from all over Japan to end their lives for whatever reason. There is just so much sadness in the premise that I was honestly excited to see what they could do with the story.
The trailer for The Forest was obviously going to cater to horror fans. This wasn't going to be a simple story of a woman going to a forest to take her life and become a rescue mission. This was going to have supernatural elements to cater to the J-Horror crowd and I knew immediately people would find this premise to be in poor taste to all those who have taken their lives there. The whitewashing allegations began to start as well when Natalie Dormer was front and center in the trailer. I have no issues myself with Natalie being the lead as this was an American woman heading to a foreign country, being out of her depth and going into the unknown. I did, however, sympathize with people's frustrations that the film would turn the dead into vengeful ghosts. It seemed a little disrespectful.
Once the scathing reviews came flooding in, I was worried that I had hyped this movie much more than what I probably should have and I was scared. After an eight month wait to finally get myself a copy of the film, the hype had died down and I went into The Forest just hoping that I came out of it enjoying what would be a silly supernatural horror film. I hoped at worst that this film would be of the guilty pleasure variety and after sitting through the Forest I found a film that had a lot of potential, an interesting premise, and a creepy setting but loses itself along the way.
The Forest had me for the first hour. I was really enjoying the build-up to the third act. This film is a slow burn horror. There isn't a lot of huge jump scares or scenes of prolonged suspense but the few scenes in the first hour that require the film to ramp up the tension, they worked for the most part. The scene in the dark hallway with the old lady was a perfect example of that. It's in the third act where this movie decides to head off the path. Once the supernatural elements kick in, this is where things become a bit silly and formulaic. The scenes of supernatural terror have all been done many times before and I found myself enjoying them less than the actual scenes of a desperate sister being stuck in a foreign country who is worried sick for her sister.
The familial moments within the first hour are lost in the third act. It becomes less about the rescue attempt of her sister and more about giving the audience a whole lot of unnecessary and poorly done ghosts. Had they focused more on Sara descending into madness as well as tidy up the messy ending, I think this movie would have fared better with myself and more critics. Even reading some of the theories on the internet about split personalities and mental illness, I think the theories are reading deeper into what the filmmakers and writers were initially trying to do when creating this story. I think people are giving them a little more credit than they deserve. It's a little messy and while it's disappointing, it's not the worst horror film of 2016.
Now onto the performances within The Forest. I'm a huge fan of Natalie Dormer. She's great in Game Of Thrones and even in Rush and The Counsellor in her small roles. I think she has a lot of presence on screen and for the first hour, I thought she did a great job. A few cheesy scenes towards the end lessen her impact. Taylor Kinney as the male support is good and I didn't mind his performance. The best performance comes from Yokiyoshi Ozawa who plays the guide that takes our American's into the forest. I found his performance to be rather sincere.
Finally, I feel that another winning element of the film is the cinematography. As someone who has been to Japan and loved every single second of it. The Forest took me back seeing Tokyo on screen again. The beautiful tracking shots through the busy streets of Tokyo to the arrival in Aokigahara and the overhead shots of the forest were beautiful. Once inside the forest, I found a lot the scenes to be quite gorgeous as well. The scene where we go in for a close-up of Natalie Dormer's eyes and it shows bits of the forest in extreme close-up were beautiful. Overall this is one of the better-looking horror films I've seen in 2016.
DEATH TOLL: 4
BLOOD AND GUTS:
- A woman is shot dead with a shotgun in a suicide pact.
- A hand is cut open.
- Maggots found in an infected wound.
- Someone is stabbed in the chest.
- Rotting corpses are seen hanging from nooses.
- A suicide pact.
The Forest was one of the horror films that I had high hopes for when I originally learned of its existence. I have always been fascinated with the Suicide Forest and was really excited to see what this film would do with that premise. After seeing The Forest, I was left a bit disappointed with the finished film. While I enjoying The Forest for the first hour. The film loses it's way in the third act and becomes a formulaic ghost story.