The Forest (Gramercy Pictures, PG-13)

The Forest proves that you can hang as many dead people from trees as you want, but nothing is quite as scary as the unknown.

 

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If you’ve seen any promotional material for The Forest, it’s likely you’ll mistake it for another one of those American bastardizations of J-Horror cult classics that were, unfortunately, lucrative in the early 00s. In actuality, this is no remake, but it is inspired by a real location commonly referred to as the Suicide Forest in Mount Fuji. Suicide Forest, or Aokigahara, is the most popular site for suicide in all of Japan and among the top three in the world. When David S. Goyer first learned of Aokigahara, he was working on the script for 2013’s Man of Steel. Goyer found easy inspiration and wrote a quick outline for a film. He sent it out to a few studio heads, and here it is right at the start of movie dumping ground season. Goyer has since transitioned into a producing role, but his fingerprints are all over this feature.

David S. Goyer is a tough one to nail my opinion on, but if nothing else his work remains a point of interest to me. He co-wrote the Dark Knight trilogy, which I’m a fanatic about. I don’t think Man of Steel deserves nearly as much flack as the movie gets. I often find myself in fights over the dismal tone of his script. Virtually everything else Goyer’s name appears on is of no interest to me, or I straight out detest. I find the most offensive work of his to be The Unborn. I couldn’t help but think about how much I loathe that feature while on my way to the press screening for The Forest. Luckily The Forest is a significantly more tolerable film than The Unborn but hardly passes as a good one.

Beyond knowing about Aokigahara, there isn’t much more information you really need about The Forest before going into it. For many, a point of interest will be Natalie Dormer (The Hunger Games franchise, TV’s Game of Thrones), as this is her first role as a leading lady. Here she plays twin sisters Sara and Jess. Jess has a history of mental illness, and Sara often takes on the job of rescuing her sister from her self-destructive behaviors. While Jess is living in Japan, Sara gets a phone call letting her know that her sister has disappeared. Sara resumes her role as caretaker and flies across the world to find Jess. With the help of Aiden (Taylor Kinney of Chicago Fire), an expatriate writer with ambiguous motives, Sara searches the Aokigahara forest for her sister. Some evil spirits haunt them, motives are questioned, some more spooky stuff happens and then the movie’s over. It’s entirely forgettable, despite the fact that it seems to be channeling horror/thrillers of the 1970s (particularly Dario Argento) in both tone and direction.

So does Dormer rise to the challenge of leading lady? Not entirely. For the first third of the movie, I was not impressed. She falls flat in the few fish-out-of-water comedic moments early on and doesn’t have enough presence to add to the quieter moments. She portrays Sara for the vast majority of the runtime, but whenever she’s Jess it’s totally unconvincing that these are two different women. Luckily, Jess isn’t in much of the film at all. Dormer’s performance becomes significantly better once things start getting tense in the forest, and Sara becomes much more deluded and desperate. Taylor Kinney proves to be capable as smarmy journalist Aiden. In fact, the scenes in which Sara questions Aiden’s motives are probably the most thrilling the film has to offer. The Forest proves that you can hang as many dead people from trees as you want, but nothing is quite as scary as the unknown. | Cait Lore

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