‘The Forest’ Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Forest

3 out of 5

‘Annabelle’ Review

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Dir:  John R. Leonetti

Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Tony Amendola, Alfre Woodard, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, and Eric Ladin

Synopsis: A couple begin to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists.

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

Spin-off movies are always a crap shoot. They either work, they don’t, or are so-so, with Annabelle – the spin-off/prequel of The Conjuring – it is a mix bag. It should be noted that James Wan, who directed The Conjuring, did not direct this, and why it’s probably not that important to mention, he did produce it and left the job to his cinematographer of The Conjuring, Insidious 1 and 2, and Dead Silence, John R. Leonetti, who still does keep a bit of the same style Wan had in The Conjuring.

 

The movie starts off the way The Conjuring started, with the Debbie (Morganna May, who makes a blink and you miss it cameo later in the movie) talking about the strange occurrences she’s had with the doll. We then go back a year before those events and meet our characters in Mia (who is coincidently played by an Annabelle as well), who is pregnant at the start of the movie and her husband John (Horton), who is working on becoming a doctor. John gives Mia the doll as a gift to add to her collection but later in the night Mia hears the neighbors scream and then gets attacked by the cult members, one of them happens to be the infamous Annabelle Higgens, who gets killed and as seen in the ads bleeds on the doll and cue the supernatural.

 

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Even when Mia and John move after having their baby, the supernatural happenings get more excessive and dangerous that they seek help from their priest, Father Perez (Amendola), and later Evelyn (Woodard), a local bookshop owner with her own past. Together they eventually find out what the demon attached to the doll wants and try to find a way to stop it.

 

Leonetii keeps the 60s and 70s-style vibe that James Wan is known for and approaches the movie in the same way with less-is-more. Creepy sounds like a creaking door, darkness, and all around building tension makes Annabelle nerve-wrecking to watch. Also, add in the fact that the Annabelle doll – which is not the way the actual doll looks due to rights issues – looks creepy as hell, doesn’t help either. The doll isn’t like Chucky because it doesn’t move or talk, but in a way that’s what makes it everything creepy.

 

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The cast does the best they can do. Wallis does a pretty decent job of carrying the movie and once the baby gets involved you can feel her anxiety to save her child, which does play a major factor in the story. Horton’s husband character doesn’t really do much nor serves any real purpose in the movie other than try to play supporting husband. Amendola’s priest character has a moment to shine but is scenes are so far in-between that his character is easily forgotten sometimes, which is a shame since Amendola is a great actor. Another waste is Alfre Woodard, who is also dependable, kind phones in her performance here and almost feels like she’s only in the movie for that final act. Her character, Evelyn, barely gets fleshed out, and when she gets a little interesting they kind of rip it away from us.

 

You should have to remember the movie is set in the past, and the movie does remind us from time to time. Mia watches the news that is talking about Manson family, roll dial phones, and old baby carriages (a nice Rosemary’s Baby reference). There’s also the dynamic of Mia and John, with Mia the stay at home mom and John the working man, and very late nights which leads him to never be around when Mia is being haunted.

 

All in all, Annabelle does have some great scares but isn’t on the same level as The Conjuring. The cast does okay and the Annabelle doll is as creepier as ever.

 

 

Annabelle

3.5 out of 5

“As Above, So Below” Review

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Dir: John Erick Dowdle

Cast: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, and Ali Marhyar

Synopsis: When a team of explorers ventures into the catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris, they uncover the dark secret that lies within this city of the dead

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

As Above, So Below is being advertised as another found footage horror movie, but as I sat there and watched it, it didn’t feel like a typical found footage movie, or even a horror movie. The movie feels more like a thriller and has bits of horror with the found footage aspect. Unfortunately for us, the movie fails at some levels but does have some redeeming qualities to it.

 

The movie follows Scarlett Marlowe (Weeks), who has made it her career to finish her late-father’s work; find legendary alchemist Nicholas Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone. The stone is suppose to, according to Scarlett, “turn basic metals into gold and grant eternal life.” She gathers the help of a documentarian colleague Benji (Hodge), fellow archaeologist and former boyfriend George (Feldman) and some local thrill seekers Paillon (Civil), Souxie (Lambert) and Zed (Marhyar).

 

Scarlett, with the help of George, eventually find out that the stone might be held in some closed off portion of The Catacombs in Paris. The group heads down and of course, weird things start to happen. Of course being stuck in an isolated area like the Catacombs things like claustrophobia, confusion, darkness, creepy noise, scrapes and bruises occur that make the group uneasy continuing their adventure. They also need to confront their inner fears if they want to make out alive.

 

The movie, which surprised me, apparently got to film some of movie in the actual Catacombs, besides the big set pieces obviously, which is kind of cool. But the other big thing that sets this aside is the movie has the actors “film” it. The characters have mini-cameras attached to their headband lights so some of the movie is seen from their point-of-view, which adds to their suspense factor. This also makes the “why are they still filming all of this” argument become less of a problem since they need to light down in the Catacombs.

 

As Above, So Below already has the creepy factor in its set. The Catacombs is essentially a mass grave and could have been used in the movie more, but instead it is used more as a backdrop than its main attraction. The Philosopher’s Stone – which has been used in other movies like Harry Potter and Tomb Raider – is more of a MacGuffin and isn’t really that interesting as a plot device.

 

The movie though does have great sound design. Besides the obvious camera movements that make you know something is coming to pop at you, the sound design is the reason this movie is a bit unnerving and creepy. It’s the small creeks, crumbles, and random noises that raise your awareness and makes you nervous for the characters.

 

Thankfully, the movie has a descent lead in Weeks. She plays Scarlett as a bit obsessive about finding the stone, not just for herself, but also to clear her father’s reputation. She not as annoying as some of the leads in found footage movies, which for this is kind of movie is welcomed and she is somewhat likeable, when she’s doing things that are clearly wrong or life threatening.

 

Feldman as George is also descent, along with Hodge as the cameraman Benji. The rest of the cast is really just filler and at one point I forgot about a character and when he’s shown on screen I was surprised to see he was still alive.

 

But with all that said As Above, So Below does have a lot wrong with it too. I address the shaky-cam because there are moments when the camera does crazy, especially in the last ten minutes when everything goes to hell (no pun intended). It also falls into to some usual horror movie tropes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it loses some of its effectiveness when you know it is coming.

 

There are also some things that are bought up that really go nowhere, and are just added in to add to the creepiness, which is kind of disappointing. The last fifteen to ten minutes is where everything gets chaotic and the movie seems to start fall into the unwelcomed. There are some creepy moments there but it then starts to follow the usual found footage beats, but with outcome that I didn’t see coming.

 

All in all, As Above, So Below has some creepy aspects and while it is a bit different from over found footage movies, it doesn’t bring anything new. It also at the end of the day doesn’t make a huge amount of sense but it is a supernatural horror movie and has a descent lead in Weeks, that it could make a serviceable weekday movie if you nothing better to do.

 

 

As Above, So Below

3 out of 5