The movie season usually kicks off in January with films that studios have no idea what to do with or have no faith in getting rolled out in release dates that are mostly bogged down with ticket buyers opting to get caught up with the award nominated or Oscar hopefuls. The new horror flick The Forest is definitely classified as a film lacking a studio that believes in it and rightfully so. I wouldn’t either.
Already the recipient of a lot of controversy and angry tumblr posts, ever since this new horror film released its first trailer it’s been an uphill struggle. Usually bad press gives a draw to a film that didn’t have much going for it, (whether it has political ramifications like the Seth Rogen/James Franco led The Interview or the horrible treatment of the native Indian actors on Adam Sandler’s latest crapfest The Ridiculous 6,) sometimes works in the films favour. Unfortunately for The Forest, besides the people with hurt feelings, no one is talking about this one.
The film centres around Natalie Dormer’s character Sara, an American who awakes one night concerned that her identical twin sister Jess may be in trouble. Jess is an emotionally troubled school teacher living in Japan who went missing after walking into the Aokigahara Forest, a real place at the northwest base of Mount Fuji where people go to commit suicide. Without a moment’s hesitation, and ignoring the protests of her boyfriend, Sara heads to Japan and goes to the forest to search for her lost sibling. Sara believes Jess is still alive due to a mental bond apparently common in identical twins. I need some real twins to back this assumption up.
After taking the train to Mount Fuji, Sara meets Aiden (the future Mr. Lady Gaga, Taylor Kinney), a reporter who has traveled the trails of Aokigahara and he offers to help her find a guide. The next morning the trio sets out to search for Sara’s sister under the explicit instructions to never leave the path and to leave the forest before nightfall. Of course, these rules are all forgotten and broken as you can expect, very quickly into the trek.
Right out of the gate this film is glaringly bad at exposition, laying it on thick with unconvincingly contrived dialogue used as an obvious device to give us our quick character motivation. There’s no reason for Sara’s boyfriend to explain to her what her twin sister is like, yet he does. It comes off completely clunky and utterly useless.
The film goes down the same jump scare path you think it would. For all of his great work, composer Bear McCreary’s score seems to telegraph everything that is going to happen, softening every scare that will pop up in your face. Aside from one pretty cool make up moment, this film is very bland in it’s scare department, just as generic as any run of the mill ghost tale supposedly based on a true story.
Natalie Dormer seems to have a hard time chewing her British accent back in this film, leaving her mouth forming some pretty unnatural dialogue, her face having some odd contortions to it. The subtle differences between her twins also seems to scream volumes about the scheduling of the films shoots. Sara is the, I assume, natural hair color of Dormer, leaning towards her role as Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones. On the other hand, the more free spirited and punky raven haired Jess looks conspicuously like a post Hunger Games Dormer trying to hide the side shave of the Cressida character.
Now, as for the aforementioned controversy. A lot of people have seemed to object to the fact that our two leads for this film are white in a story that takes place in Japan. This shouldn’t be construed as whitewashing in my opinion as our main is supposed to be an outsider who doesn’t understand the dangers of going into the forest. It’d be a really short film if she knew. “Your sister when into the forbidden suicide forest.” “Really? The haunted one that we shouldn’t go in? Looks like she’s probably dead. I’m not going in.” Credits. That’s far lamer than the actual film.
Secondly, people say it’s in bad taste to use the true story of the suicide forest, as it’s a slap in the face to the many people that die there. Not to seem insensitive, but it’s the perfect fodder for a dumb ghost horror story. There’s really nothing exploitative about it in my opinion, just an idea for three writers (yes, this film took three writers) to made a bunch of plot points to make the teenagers gasp. Why wasn’t The Boy In The Striped Pajamas called out for “exploiting” the Holocaust with a fictional story? I would disagree with that too but it seems like the same type of argument.
Being the first release of 2016, I can’t say we’re off to even a mediocre start as The Forest falls under that bar. I can’t see it making any sort of dent box office wise and it will just fade into the “oh, that came out?” department. No stars will be made and first time director Jason Zada has not been put on any sort of map with his debut feature. Fans of horror films should steer clear and probably try to find something else to do. I was warned to do this before watching it but I can’t deprive you of the same warning and that’s my justification for watching it. The catharsis of my suffering comes from me saying that The Forest is a one out of five.