Review: The Forest

A woman goes into Japan’s Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror.

Simply put, ‘The Forest’ is the very worst brand of multiplex horror. It tells the story of an American woman (Natalie Dormer) who ventures into Japan’s Aokigahara forest (a popular stomping ground for the suicidal) in search of her missing sister. With the aid of her newfound colleague Aiden (Taylor Kinney), she seeks to unravel the mystery of her disappearance as things around her grow ever-stranger.

‘The Forest’ isn’t all bad. Beautifully shot and decently acted, Dormer and Kinney struggle vainly against a script laden with clunky, inauthentic dialogue and plot points that never really threaten to engage. Jump scares abound but never really connect – the fake-outs don’t land, and the real ones are plainly unscary. It feels as though the peppering of these lazy set-pieces, bland hallucinations and “quiet quiet quiet BANG” dream sequences throughout the film is designed to help cultivate the atmosphere of dread the film aspires to, but when these come up so short, and with nothing to back then up in between, all you’re left with is the mounting feeling that all ‘The Forest’ is doing is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.

Dramatically inept and neutered in its horror, this is a tired, rote affair that is doomed to languish both in the bargain bin and at the unhappy end of critics’ end of year list. An almost unqualified disaster.

A suicide forest in Japan is a story worth telling, a story that’s should have made a good film, a really good film. Yet something went wrong.

The film opens with a mixed up sequence which is a little all over the place and a little difficult to follow as we are introduced to Sarah (Natalie Dormer) and the fact that her twin sister has gone missing in the forest. Of course being a twin Sarah knows her sister is still alive and sets out to find her.

That is mostly it, Sarah meets up with a tourist review writer and a guide to the forest, but obviously things are not what they seem with these people though they are not really explored or at least explained very well. They do find traces of the sister and of course Sarah wants to stay in the forest over night, (of course she does) even with all the warnings of the guide. Luckily Aidan (Taylor Kinney) stays with her…

At this point the scares should have started following but having had a couple of cheap ones before this nothing really happened. The tension doesn’t mount, the scares are generic and really it just plods along. There is a lot of running around and we get glimpses of ghosts around the trees but they don’t seem that sinister. They just seem to scream at her and nothing else.

There is links to other suicide moments through the family, but again it’s never used well and as we enter the third act I had lost interest in Sarah’s plight. The ending is a little strange and left me wondering just what happened. Even after a sleep I’m not really any wiser.

Dormer is ok along with Kinney but the script and lack of tension don’t really help them and I was glad when it ended. It’s a shame because Dormer is a capable actresses I just think this didn’t really do her justice.

It’s a shame because this should have made a really good film, it should have made a really scary film, but it just didn’t. Not one I’ll be adding to my dvd collection.

Sarah, a twin awakes in the night with the sudden knowledge that her Japan based sister is in trouble, after establishing that she is missing in a reputedly haunted forest where those contemplating suicide go to end their lives she heads off to Japan to find her sibling. On arrival she teams up with Aidan, a Westerner living in the area and a local guide friend of his and heads into the forest. Every person she meets on her journey warns her to stay on the path.

Preparing for Frightfest Glasgow this year The Forest trailer grabbed me as an atmospheric looking jump-fest. The eerie imagery of emancipated looking corpses standing behind Natalie Dormer looked really effective and quite likely to make me jump. Jump high.

And I did, at three or four places I was ‘got’ by the pictures jump scares. But…

And as my old granny used to say, “everything before the ‘but’ is Bulls- ‘”. But ( deliberately placed callback) enough of my granny. The Forest Rams home a simple message that has echoed through horror film and literature, ‘Don’t leave the path!’ Obviously that was going to be a broken rule at some point in the story. The surprising and ultimately frustrating choice the filmmakers make is to have every character that Sarah encounters from her arrival in Japan warning her to stay on the path. Almost as soon as she enters the forest with a guide and an apparently friendly Australian , both of whom repeatedly warn against leaving the path the guide takes them off the path. Thus making the whole set up completely pointless.

Ultimately the script bears much fault here. It isn’t clear what the forest is actually doing and what is being imagined and whether the true threat is of a supernatural or more human form. While I am more than happy to work out such things and be taken on a journey where a director twists and turns, the very least I expect is that at some point the filmmaker themselves at least appears to have some idea of what is actually going on. That is unfortunately not the case here. The finished film becomes a jumble of half baked ideas and characters with little or no motivation for decisions they take. For several minutes I was hoping that another character had drugged Sarah as for a while I had no idea why she was doing what she was doing. By the time the film approaches its finale any sense of tension has long since dissipated leaving me waiting impatiently for the credits.

While it is ultimately a lost opportunity there are still some really effective images here and more than a couple of jump scares that stop this from being a complete waste of time, but in all honesty I would find something more coherent when seeking out your horror thrills.

What started as a great premise very quickly goes down hill with THE FOREST. An excellent setting and a reasonably decent idea for a story captured my attention from the off as Sarah goes to track down her missing sister who was last seen in a forest at the base of Mt Fuji notorious for its visitors not returning. Cue a desperate Sarah heading off into the woods and this is where it all kicks off.

However the decent premise does not live up to its promise which is a huge shame. The story is there and the location is great and it truly makes you realise how vast the place is when you see the sweeping shots of the forest itself.

As Sarah stays overnight after finding her sisters belongings we have echoes of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and it does have some truly scary moments. But the problem I have is that it just doesn’t bloody work and as we get to the films end you just want to scream at the screen what the fuck was that. The ending of THE FOREST left me feeling confused as to what I have seen and it doesn’t wrap it up at all.

It is a competent film but it frustrated the hell out of me and the initial promise quickly fades away to a generic scare fest with an ending that explains nothing. I left the cinema thinking what was that I’ve just seen and it’s like the script just got abandoned halfway and they decided to make the rest up.

Worth a watch but don’t say I didn’t warn you first.

The Forest is out at cinemas from the 26th February. 




78 thoughts on “Review: The Forest

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