Director: Jason Zada
Writer: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, and Eoin Macken
Synopsis: A woman goes into Japan’s Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Aokigahara Forest aka The Suicide Forest, or Sea of Tress, at the base of Mount Fuji is a real place. Aokigahara is actually very famous for being a common suicide site and being associated with demons in their mythology. So in other words, it’s prime for a horror movie setting. So, first time director Jason Zada along with Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer set The Forest within the famous and eerie location in their subpar horror film that has some issues that keep it from being more than just a generic horror film.
The Forest starts off when Sara (Dormer) has a nightmare about her twin sister Jess running in a forest. Her “twin connection” makes her feel that Jess is in trouble and Sarah decides to fly off to Japan where Jess is teaching at a school. What Sarah eventually finds out is that Jess went into Aokigahara Forest, which she finds out is the Suicide Forest. Despite what some people she encounters are saying, Sarah is convinced that her sister isn’t dead and wants to go into the forest to search for her.
Sarah also encounters a travel writer, Aiden (Kinney), who along with local guide Michi (Ozawa), say they will take her into the forest to look for Jess. However, once there Sarah is constantly warned by Michi to stay on the path and not be fooled by what she sees in the forest, because it is all in her head. He also warns her to stay close because she is filled with sadness, something the forest thrives on. From there, what follows is supernatural occurrences and Sarah’s mission to find her sister and get out alive.
The Forest is not that great of a movie, however, it’s not that bad of a movie either. There are some things that really work for it and I’m quite impressed with how great the cinematography was by Mattias Troelstrup. It probably shouldn’t be that much of a surprise since Zada is music video director and some of the shots in the film, especially some tracking and swooping shots of the forest are beautiful to look at, in fact the way the film is shot, makes the forest feel like it is its own character. There’s one particular sequences right before the final act of the film that is a major highlight for me personally and is, arguably, the creepiest part of the film.
The other best part of the film is Natalie Dormer. Her first real leading role playing twins is pretty fun to watch. Although there is a nice scene between the twins around the start of the film, we follow Sarah from start to finish as she journeys into Aokigahara Forest. Dormer handles herself very well in the horror genre and you believe her when she has to deal with everything that is thrown at her. Although The Forest isn’t the best movie for Dormer to showcase her talents, she even seems to phone it in at the beginning, although I don’t necessary blame her for that, Dormer’s Sarah is still a good lead to follow.
The rest of the supporting cast, which aren’t many mind you, are a bit one-note. Taylor Kinney’s Aiden is a mixed bag as his intentions are left unclear and unanswered, which more on that in a bit, but his character is met to be shrouded in mystery. There’s also Yukiyoshi Ozawa’s Michi, who could have been a great character if he was given more to do than just be the guide into the Suicide Forest and warning Sarah about the dangers of it. Eoin Macken pops in as Sara’s husband, who shows up in the beginning of the film and just disappears and isn’t really mentioned until the end.
Now, going back to the unclear and unanswered statement I made, The Forest, had potential, but it’s overall a missed opportunity because of some big unanswered and unclear questions that the film brings up. There is also a big setup that adds to Sarah’s story and plays a factor later on, but the payoff is underwhelming with how it plays out which is a shame because it could have been powerful. The Forest also deals with a pacing issue which thankfully gets fixed by the end of the film, but it is a bit distracting for a good chuck of the film. There are quite a few pop-up scares that are scattered throughout, and some work more than others, but thankfully the ones that do are memorable.
The one thing you’ll probably be left out on Aokigahara itself. The movie just brushes past a lot of its history and simply uses the forest as a mere set-piece and backdrop for Sarah’s story. It isn’t too much of a bad thing, but the movie tries to put some emphasis on the importance of Aokigahara Forest, especially telling us that the souls of the lost in the forest are not ghosts, but trapped souls stuck there forever that are called Yurei. While the thought is appreciated, they could have put a little more thought into it, but the movie is Sarah’s story, so I can see why they wouldn’t go down that route.
Another thing that will divide audiences is the ending. I’m indifferent about it to be honest, because for me it lacks the extra punch because of the pacing and unclear/unanswered questions the movie leaves before the final shot.
All in all, The Forest is an okay horror movie for January – dare I say the best one since Mama (for me anyway) – and while it leaves a lot of things up in the up, Natalie Dormer, the cinematography and a few standout horror/creepy scenes are worthwhile.
3 out of 5