Film Review: The Forest

5.5/10

Set in Japan, the film begins with the protagonist, Sara Price (Natalie Dormer- Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, The Tudors) looking for her twin sister, Jess (also played by Dormer), who is believed to have gone missing in the Aokigahara Forest, or the ‘Suicide Forest’, located at the foot of Mount Fuji. Despite warnings of ‘angry spirits’ that exist in the forest, Price persists and enters, with the assistance of a guide (Yukiyoshi Azawa) and self-proclaimed reporter (Taylor Kinney- The Vampire Diaries, Zero Dark Thirty).

 

Despite this seemingly eccentric and original plot, most reviews deemed the film to be predictable and standard of the genre; and I have to say- I agree. Even if you try to ignore the horror-movie checkpoints such as the shower scene, the ‘eerie’ warning of the locals and the multiple solemn looks out of public-transport windows from the protagonist, the film was still…. Dull. For one thing, it was difficult to engage with the characters due to the lack of character development and while this lack of personality does feature in many horror films, it is usually resolved by distracting the audience with fear- because let’s be honest, that’s why we watch scary films. But even at this hurdle, The Forest fell, as a result of overly-predictable and anticlimactic jump-scares.

However, one positive of the film was that it was pretty accurate, with the setting being a truly prevalent area for suicide, with on average 100 suicides a year reported. Also, reference to the uselessness of compasses is made in the film, this is true to the area containing high levels of magnetic iron- making it impossible to read a compass. Those of us who have watched the comedy- Without a Paddle, will have already known this and felt very clever.

Although, some details were omitted from the film, such as the supportive messages placed around the forest, including ‘your life is a precious gift from your parents’. Instead the film features the more emotionless and prescriptive ‘no entry’ signs. It’s only a little point, I know, but since finding this difference I feel that a sort of hopelessness is portrayed in the film and with it being based on a real place, where real people lost their lives- it’s pretty dangerous. But it is a film and not a documentary and it won’t be the first film to stretch the truth, and it won’t be the last. One thing that you can’t accuse the film of doing is romanticising the loss of life in this forest. This has been the accusation of many in regards to the book, Kuroi Jukai by Seicho Matsumoto, who wrote about the joint suicide of young lovers in the Aokigahara Forest.

 

However, looking at the film purely as a horror film and ignoring its factual origins I would say it was a bit of a flop. In watching a 2016 horror, I was hoping to find something that broke the conventions of the genre and, subsequently, the boredom of this stagnation. Besides, even sticking with conventions, The Forest is already starting on the back-foot, competing with other horrors set in Japan, such as The Grudge and The Ring- both recognised classics and benchmarks of the genre.

In trying to play it safe by going through the motions of a low-budget horror, I think The Forest is a bit of a let-down. The acting was fair, but the lack of personality to the characters and the film itself made for a bit of a bland watch. So my search for a non-conventional and scary horror film continues, any suggestions?