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Forest, The

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Gramercy Pictures
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Jason Zada
Natalie Dormer
Taylor Kinney
Yukiyoshi Ozawa
Bottom Line: 

Years ago, when I first learned of the existence of Japan’s Aokigahara (aka; The Suicide Forest), I’d wondered why some enterprising filmmaker hadn’t taken this tragic and terrifying place and somehow incorporated it into a film. Now, in the last five years alone, there have been four attempts to bring the haunting Aokigahara to the silver screen, including 2010’s low-budget The Forest of the Living Dead, the 2015 Gus Van Sant drama Sea of Trees, and now, what many believe would be one 2016’s biggest horror box-office contenders, The Forest.

Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer pulls double duty as twin sisters Sara and Jess Price, the former of which is notified of her sister’s possible demise as she was last seen wandering into Aokigahara. Panicked, Sara takes the next flight to Japan and begins to piece together the last few days of her sister’s life before her disappearance, with all signs pointing to the dreaded forest. It’s during this time that Sara meets strapping, adventurous reporter dude, Aidan (Taylor Kinney), with whom she shares both drinks and concerns about her sister. No stranger to the stories of Aokigahara, Aidan doesn’t want Sara to venture into the forest alone, so he encourages her to let him accompany her. Aidan also arranges for a local guide named Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to help them navigate the dense forest’s labyrinthine trails.

Michi is not confident that they will find Sara’s sister alive, but Jess is undeterred, and it isn’t long before they happen upon what appears to be Jess’s campsite. Jess wants to continue the search, but an obviously frightened Michi suggests they return in the morning as he doesn’t want to be in the forest when night falls. Jess refuses to leave, however, and she and Aiden stay behind.

During the night, we’re treated to the expected bumps and howls, as well as a few protracted jump scares that lead to Jess meeting a young girl named Hoshiko (Rina Takasaki), who seems terrified of Aiden, and warns Jess not to trust him before running off and vanishing into the woods. From here on out it becomes a matter of whether or not Aiden is responsible for Jess’ disappearance, as well as Jess’ increased vulnerability to the sights, sounds, and suggestions of the ghostly denizens of the forest.

An amalgam of all of the supernatural horror flicks that came out of Japan during the Asian Horror Invasion of the late 1990s/early 2000s, The Forest borrows a lot at face-value, from dark-eyed, alabaster skinned spirits to the desaturated color palette, but ignores the expert use of mood and pacing that made the best examples of Japanese horror so effective. Instead, The Forest takes the Hollywood path, relying on rapid fire editing, an exhausting amount of jump-scares, and an overabundance of unconvincing CGI. The result is a rather lightweight experience that makes for an okay date night flick, albeit one that will be mostly forgotten by the time you return home from the theater.

The main draw of the film is Natalie Dormer, and the actress does well with what she’s given, proving herself as formidable a big-screen presence as she is on the small-screen. Her Sara is strong, sexy, and rises to the occasion, even when everything around her seems so damned content with mediocrity.  

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