Stars: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Yasuo Tobishima, Noriko Sakura, Yûho Yamashita, Lidija Antonic | Written by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai | Directed by Jason Zada
After her sister is reported missing, Sara (Natalie Dormer), journeys from her home in the US to Japan in search of her twin sister Jess, who was last seen heading to Aokigahara – the infamous suicide forest at the base of Mount Fuji. After a visit to the school where Jess teaches, the resourceful Sara sets out for the forest itself. Accompanied by a charismatic new acquaintance, expatriate journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney), she enters the forest having been well warned to “stay on the path.” Forest guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) keeps a protective eye on them both, but when night falls he cannot dissuade them from staying in the forest, and reluctantly leaves the duo to face the elements alone. Determined to discover the truth about her sister’s fate, Sara will have to face the angry and tormented souls of Aokigahara, who prey on anyone who dares come near them.
Ooh, that sounds exciting doesn’t it? It was, back in the early 2000s when films like The Ring and The Grudge first hit the collective conciousness… Now The Forest feels very much like a retread of a genre that is itself is dead even in its country of origin. Don’t get me wrong, there are flourishes of ingenuity strewn throughout the film (director Jason Zada throws in a superb sequence of visual creepiness when Sara and her guide first enter the titular forest and leave the path for example) but those few scenes are undermined by the been-there-done-that script which throws in every cliche and stereotype in the J-horror handbook.
The biggest problem with The Forest is the central character Sara. Yes, the character is ruthlessly determined to find out what happened to her sister but that ruthlesssness is often so overwrought that is actually equals stupidity. Especially when it comes to Sara’s empathic twin “powers” – it’s a cliche that has been used a myriad of times across a myriad of genres, but here that relentless belief that Jess isn’t dead because she “can feel her pain”, makes Sara’s character more of an idiot (a dangerous idiot it turns out) than a concerned sister.
And the script doesn’t help either. Instead of trying to tell a story, it is seemingly more interested in setting up scenes just to (try and) scare the audience. So much so that The Forest jumps around all over the place, with scenes (such as the old Grandma hotel corridor once) seemingly inserted at random intervals to fulfil some kind of jump-scare quota set by the producers/studio. That is until, of course, we get into Aokigahara itself, which allows the filmmakers to go completely OTT with the horrific imagery and jump scares without care for any sort of logic or making them intergral to the story at hand. I imagine that, come the third act, most audiences will be begging for the horror to stop. Not because it’s frightening but because its monotonous!
In the end though, The Forest is the kind of J-horror wannabe that will find an audience on Netflix, an audience of teenage girls who’ve never seen a horror movie in their life, watching this as some sort of scary movie “right of passage”. Because they’re certainly the only types of people that will actually find The Forest scary. For everyone else it’s anything but.
The Forest is released in the UK on February 26th.