Directed by: Jason Zader
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Taylor Kinney, Jozef Aoki
Sara has always had a very close connection to her twin sister, Jess, so much so that she can always sense when she is in danger, such as now. When Tokyo police contact her to tell her Jess has gone missing in a forest notorious for the number of people who commit suicide there, Sara jumps on a plane for Japan, certain that her twin is still alive. But there may be more to the forest than suicide victims...
The Forest is one of those PG-13 rated horror fllms which relies on a mix of jump-scares and psychological misdirection to pretty good effect. Set in the very real and macabre Aokigahara forest, where people do indeed enter with the aim of committing suicide, the film mixes sumpuous digital photography and sound design with hallucinogenic visuals.
Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) stars as both Sara and Jess, twin sisters orphaned at a young age. The cause of their parents' death has traumatised both, in different ways - Jess is the more outwardly damaged but Sara, while outwardly more calm and composed, is living in a state of denial as to what actually happened. Sara meets Aiden, an Amercian travel writer, who is able to help her get a guide to take them both into the forest.
If you're a veteran horror movie fan, you're not going to be overly impressed with the supernatural element of the film. What is quite fun, however is watching Sara making a number of idiotic moves which, if she didn't happen to be the main protagonist, would have certainly led to her doom early on. The other fun part is watching Sara unravel, and trying to determine if it really is all in her head, or if there is a supernatural influence, subtly twisting Sara's mind....
The cinematography really helps build the creepy atmosphere. The forest itself (filmed in Serbia, rather than the real Aokigahara forest) is heavily canopied so it appears darker than it actually is, and the moments where the camera hones in on a particular item of fauna or flora captures the rustic, earthy beauty of it all. The various corpses they come across are all based on real cadavers found in Aokigahara.
For an American film set in Japan, it manages to avoid a lot of the usual cliches. There are no J-Horror references, for example, although there is an over-use of Japanese schoolgirl uniforms. The Japanese are portrayed as having deep-seated beliefs in the supernatural and long-held superstitions, while Sara considers herself a sophisticated city-dweller and has no time for such things. On her first night in Tokyo, Sara has a nightmare which ends in a pretty decent jump-scare, however it immediately cuts to the next morning with Sara awakening as if she’d just had the best sleep ever. When she discovers Jess’s tent, she decides to stay the night, something every character she’s come across has quite expressively assured her is a Very Bad Idea.
The film gets a lot of mileage out of Sara’s state of mind. We know from early on that she lies about what happened to her parents – even to herself – as a way of dealing with the tragedy and loss. Jess on the other hand turned to substance abuse as a coping mechanism and nearly succumbed to overdose before. There is a big question mark as to just how damaged Sara already is before she heads to Japan, and whether her sister’s disappearance is the catalyst to allow her suppressed nightmares to surface. Is the forest making her crazy, or was she crazy to begin with? Is the forest populated with ghosts trying to coax her to her own death, or do they stem from her own psyche? The film remains quite enigmatic about it until the very last scene which lets you know exactly which way the film leans on the subject, but the effectiveness of the film’s climax depends greatly on what you consider Sara’s state of mind to be, regardless of supernatural influence or not.
The Forest is pretty effective in its creepy nature and relies heavily on the audience working things out for itself and reading between the lines. As such, some people may find the film’s climax both jarring and overly reliant on coincidence.
7 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)