The initial problem with The Forest is that it comes out about a dozen times a year. It has a simple format that is used in nearly every contemporary horror film. All a film of this caliber requires is some semblance of a script, a few jump scares, and any blonde actress. The Forest is the feature film directional debut of Jason Zada and stars Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) who plays Sara Price. Sara’s twin sister, Jess (also played by Dormer) goes missing in Japan and was last seen in the Suicide Forest so Sara goes to the forest to find her.
The Forest is about a real forest in Japan called Aokigahara also known as the Suicide Forest. It is a popular place for people to commit suicide and it is reportedly haunted by angry spirits called yūrei. The forest is greatly associated with Japanese mythology.
Dormer has showed off her acting chops in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2, CBS’s Elementary and, of course, as Margaery Tyrell in HBO’s Game of Thrones. She has shown to be a reliable character actor but has yet to reveal if she has what it takes to be a star. Unfortunately, this film does not allow her the room to truly shine as a lead since the part could easily be played by literally any actress with the desire to be associated with a run-of-the-mill horror flick. Her character is terrifically dull and it’s almost impossible to find her compelling.
The film contains a few scenes featuring Sara and Jess together but their affectionate, sisterly dialogue feels so stilted you may find yourself not even caring if they are ever reunited. Every relationship onscreen seems forced and unnatural with absolutely no room to breathe. Sara is a two-dimensional, tedious bore and her identical twin sister is identically uninteresting. It is hard to be genuinely invested in a narrative when you could not care less if the protagonist lives or dies. Dormer, however, holds her own the best she can, somehow managing to voice the stilted dialogue with the sort of intensity that is expected from the lead of a mediocre horror film.
In a stroke of luck, Dormer meets Aiden (Taylor Kinney) at a bar and she tells him her plan to save her sister who she full-heartedly believes is still alive. He decides to help her seeing as he just happens to be going through the forest himself to write an article about it for the magazine he works for. He also decides to write an article about Sara and tell her story as well. The two travel through the forest together, constantly being reminded over and over that if they see anything unusual, it is all in their head.
There are a few scenes where we are saved from clunky and uncomfortable dialogue but these scenes only feature Sara walking cautiously toward vaguely menacing objects as the music rises. Half the movie is made of dream sequences and visions ending, of course, with a cheap jump scare that contribute nothing to the narrative. The score continually indicates when the jump scares are about to occur and it’s almost as if the filmmakers do not want the audience to be surprised.
The best horror films require a good deal of subtlety and The Forest has absolutely none. Sara is reminded by nearly everyone she meets that she should not go in the forest because she is too sad and if she dares enter, she will see disturbing visions and may be tricked into killing herself. Of course, Sara is confronted with the tragedy of her haunted past and also manages to cross paths with a creepy Japanese schoolgirl who she believes to be real. Every last bit of the narrative seems to have been taken right out of a book about how to create a mediocre horror film and the only surprising aspect of the film was how it was ever made in the first place.
Besides being a downright bore of a film, a major problem with The Forest is that it brings up a few issues of cultural appropriation considering it practically stole a piece of Japanese history and folklore. A prominent historical location in Japan has been reduced to a poorly constructed haunted house for American tourists. Japanese culture is not exactly treated with respect in the film, in fact, one of the first scenes features Sara looking disgustedly at a plate of moving seafood served to her at a Japanese restaurant. She asks for something a little less alive while the food squirms in front of her and a group of women laugh at her and blatantly ridicule her in Japanese. This scene is not only offensive but also extremely outdated. Sara meets other Japanese locals throughout the film but they are depicted as being incredibly ignorant and superstitious which is not what you should expect from a film that steals a story right out of a Japanese history book.
Verdict: 1 out of 5
Overall, the film is not only boring, one-sided, and cliché, it is also a blatant appropriation of Japanese culture. The only credit it deserves is having a genuinely creepy setting. However, despite being set against a backdrop full of culture, mystery, sadness, and folklore, the film offers nothing but a few predictable jump scares and forgettable characters. David S. Goyer, producer of the film, stated, “We hope The Forest makes people afraid of going into the woods in the same way that Jaws made people afraid to go swim in the ocean.” Well, he wasn’t far off. Watching The Forest may very well make you afraid of ever going into a forest again but only because it will remind you of the hour and a half you wasted watching this movie.