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Review: ‘The Forest’ lacks horror movie know-how (Includes first-hand account)

Not all of a country’s famous landmarks are places they want to actively promote. At the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan lies Aokigahara, a.k.a. the Sea of Trees since it looks like a green body of water from above; however it’s better known by its less charming nickname, Suicide Forest, as it’s a notoriously common site for people to end their lives. In addition, local myths suggest the area is haunted by the ghosts of those who died. The Forest follows a woman’s journey into the eerie landscape in search of her missing twin sister.

Jess (Natalie Dormer) has been teaching abroad, but one day Sara (also Dormer) receives a phone call from the police informing her her sister has been reported missing and was last seen walking into the forest. Sara’s instincts tell her Jess is in trouble but alive, so she hops on a plane and flies halfway around the world to save her sister. Her search takes her to the Suicide Forest and under the supervision of Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), a park ranger, and the accompaniment of Aiden (Taylor Kinney), a journalist, Sara begins her pursuit of a needle in a haystack with nothing but her special twin connection to guide her. Unfortunately, becoming trapped in the Forest overnight reveals its more malicious demons determined not to let them leave.

This is basically a ghost story that takes place outside. The natural environment provides more hiding spots, an ominous vastness and countless sounds that create the illusion of a nearby threat. Another film that occurs in the same forest (Grave Halloween) successfully used these elements to it and the supernatural forces that occupy the area’s advantage. However this picture tries so hard to make a scary movie, it fails to achieve the subtlety that generally makes these tales frightening. Close-ups of plants and insects serve no purpose, and are more annoying than unnerving. It should be obvious it’s what’s in the forest that poses a danger — not the forest itself. First-time feature director Jason Zada also relies too heavily on the jump scare rather than creating a haunting atmosphere that does the work for him.

The characters and their gradual development transition from adequate to increasingly imprudent. Sara’s quest to find her sister is admirable, even if her personality is somewhat lacking. Aiden is more charismatic, but in a manner that makes him difficult to trust. However once they enter the forest, both characters make numerous foolish decisions that feel like a means to an end rather than a realistic representation of the individuals or their situation; which is not a criticism of the actors, who are sufficient in their roles, but rather a poor script that is trying to force an inherently intriguing story.

Director: Jason Zada
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney and Yukiyoshi Ozawa

Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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