The Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Japan has a dark past. It is known as a place where people go to commit suicide. Sara’s twin sister, Jess, went into that forest and vanished. Everyone is convinced that Jess is dead, but Sara knows that she is still alive and she’s in trouble. Sara decides to venture into the forest to find her sister. What she doesn’t realize is those who die in the forest become restless spirits, and now they want Sara.
Unfortunately, most of what I have to say about this film is negative. Of the things I didn’t like, the thing I liked the least was the dialogue. Throughout the entire film the dialogue felt forced and artificial. This can especially be heard at the beginning of the film. They were clearly trying to set things up for the rest of the film by establishing the relationships between characters and the situation that leads to Sara (Natalie Dormer) traveling to Japan. The problem is that these things were too simply stated and didn’t sound the way people would speak to each other in the real world. I was almost cringing every time people spoke to each other in the film because it felt so false.
The scares may have also been affected by the lack of a clear mythology. Throughout the film they mention the spirits of those who kill themselves in the forest. The idea is when they die their spirits come back angry. They also discuss how the forest makes you see things and tried to make you kill yourself. In theory these are great ideas to make a scary film. What keeps The Forest from succeeding is that the various things that are supposed to scare you don’t connect to the mythology the way they should. It feels more like a bunch of random pieces of classic stories and iconic horror images thrown together. There isn’t a cohesive theme connecting the different elements that are supposed to scare you as part of the same mythology.
Another aspect of this film that did not work was the scares. What would have made this film more terrifying would have been if they relied more on suspense and tension while Sara is looking for Jess in the forest infamous for having dark spirits. Instead the filmmakers chose to utilize jump scares to frighten the audience. Sadly, these jump scares did not achieve the intended response. I am a complete wimp and typically it doesn’t take much to scare me. There were several occasions in this film where I braced myself for a scare that didn’t even make me flinch. The fact that I had no problem walking to my car alone at 5am this morning when it was pitch black is further proof that this film didn’t scare me. The jump scares may not have been scary because they were set up in such a way that you almost knew they were coming. If they were to do this film over again, I would recommend having the spirits less visible and more like shadows lurking behind every tree to build the tension, rather than having them everywhere and looking relatively like normal people.
I absolutely love Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2) who plays both Sara and Jess. In this film, I did not love her. It’s really difficult for me to discern whether it was her acting that I didn’t like or if it was simply the writing and her acting was fine. It seems more likely that it was the writing because there were definitely moments when her performance pushed past the unfortunate dialogue. Taylor Kinney (Chicago Fire) did a fine job, but I felt like his character was out of place and almost an unnecessary addition to the film. This seemed to be a common theme. There were a couple other characters who seemed as if they were irrelevant to the plot and that they didn’t belong in this film.
This was a film that could have been very interesting and scary. The idea of going into the reportedly haunted suicide forest of Japan sounds like the makings of a terrifying story, especially since this place actually exists. The film simply failed to create a complete mythology in their plot based on the real life myths. The result felt like pieces of several different stories chopped up and thrown together in a way that lacked substance and scares. Combine that with the robotic dialogue and it ruins any chance of creating a film that the audience could fall in love with. The one redeeming quality I can say about this film is that the ending was not what I expected, which is always a nice surprise.
OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10