Every January, like clockwork, studios release sub-par horror films to theaters. They have little competition with any quality films, as all of the award contending films have to be in theaters before the end of the year. Last year’s crummy release was WOMAN IN BLACK 2, and this year is THE FOREST
The plot follows Sara (Natalie Dormer) as she flies to Japan to find her recently missing twin sister Jess (Natalie Dormer). Her sister supposedly went into the infamous Aokigahara forest at Mount Fuji. Known for its long history of being a preferred location for committing suicide, it is also said to be haunted by Yūrei, or emotional ghosts. These are the ghosts that add spice to J-horror films, and tend to latch on to troubled people. Sara insists on going in to the forest to find her sister, but not without the help of a traveling journalist, Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and a local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). Considering that every person Sara has spoken with in Japan has warned her about the spookiness of the forest and its persuasive ghosts, soon after entering the forest Sara begins to see things and heart things, or does she?
With all of these factors coming together in an exotic location, THE FOREST has its choice of things to freak out both Sara and the audience. Unfortunately, the film never really settles on what we should focus our fear upon. Is Aiden to be trusted? Or is Sara falling prey to the mind-games of the forest? Or has Jess completed her destructive mission and Sara’s twin spidey-sense has failed her? Or are both twins haunted by their disturbing childhoods? THE FOREST bobs and weaves between all of these possibilities and its lack of focus makes it impossible to sink in to any one fear. Just when you start to think that ghosts are what Sara should be most afraid of, THE FOREST completely drops them and instead has Sara worrying about something else entirely.
This is not to say that there is no enjoyment to be had in THE FOREST. Putting really obvious dialogue aside, the film does try its best to use the cinematic format to its advantage. The opening sequence is a flashback to present-day montage clarifying where Sara is traveling and her relationship with Jess. This scene in particular does a good job of showing, rather than telling. I thought this was a sign of good things to come, but instead it is just teasing a level of storytelling that you do not get to experience again.
All of the actors do well enough. There are times when Dormer honestly looks a little confused by what should scare her more, and I can’t help but relate. The performances are subdued, and then again material is less than inspiring.
In the end the worst part about THE FOREST is the disservice that the film does to its source material. Aokigahara forest is not only real, its history is bone chilling. The sheer number of deaths there, in both recent and pre-war history, should have inspired a much richer and more focused horror film. Or one with Japanese main-characters, at the very least.
Going to the cinema in January should be done with caution. If you go in with low expectations THE FOREST will meet your expectations perfectly.