Sara Price (Natalie Dormer), an American woman, travels to a forest in Japan in search of her missing twin sister. However, things change after she is confronted by demonic spirits.
The Aokigahara forest in Japan, near Mount Fuji, is without a doubt one of the most horrifying places you can actually visit in the real world. Given the nickname “Suicide Forest” by many, it is, sadly, a place where many people have gone to take their own lives. Surely walking through the forest would be a terrifying and unsettling experience for obvious reasons. Sadly though, Jason Zada’s The Forest is not that. It’s a horror movie that has a terrific premise but manages to underwhelm in every possible way.
This should have been a deeply unsettling and thought-provoking horror film in the same breath as something like Hereditary. It should have been a bold and haunting look at how somebody’s life could change forever once entering the Aokigahara forest and the mental trauma that many people have certainly gotten from the place. Instead, it constantly opts for some of the weakest and most bland jumpscares these eyes have seen in a while, accompanied by a story that is so underdeveloped and unscary that it eventually becomes a chore to even sit through the film.
It starts off fairly simple and honestly a little bit intriguing as we learn that our protagonist Sara is quite caring for her sister Jess. The two share a sisterly bond that cannot be broken. Sara will do anything for Jess and vice versa. She even says that she has a feeling deep inside of her when she knows that Jess is in trouble and needs a little bit of help. That’s why when she discovers that her sister is out in Japan and is believed to be in the Aokigahara forest, she packs her bags immediately and heads down there in search of her.
It’s a fast-paced opening act that impressively gets things going rather quickly, although the editing here was truly atrocious and jarring. In the first twenty minutes alone, we already know what the conflict is and we are already thrown into the protagonist’s journey. We understand what she wants to do. The problem is that it was told in a boring and uninteresting way that makes it nearly impossible to enjoy.
As soon as Sara gets to Japan, the movie as a whole takes a turn for the worse and never gets better for the rest of the running time. There are numerous scenes of her talking to local residents asking if they have seen her sister and informs them that they are twins. One woman tells her that she may be in the Aokigahara forest, which leads her to enlist the help of a journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney), and a guide named Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa).
Once they all enter, the jumpscares start to pile on thick and the plot begins to fizzle out. The issue is that we really are never given a single reason to genuinely care for Sara’s plight. Yes, we understand that she wants to discover her sister in the forest alive, but that’s really it. There is essentially no other development given to Sara except for later learning that her mother and father were involved in a fatal car accident when her and Jess were children.
While watching the movie, I picked up on something relatively quickly that is quite easy to not notice. We will witness a fairly normal scene, such as Sara talking to Aiden about the situation. Maybe an argument between the two will break out, and then a scene or two later, an annoying and completely lifeless jumpscare happens. The whole film follows a predictable and tiresome pattern that gets incredibly annoying quickly.
As bad and as unscary as the movie is though, I have to admit that the lead performance from Natalie Dormer was actually quite good. She feels extremely raw and vulnerable as Sara and does the best that she can with the script that was given to her. It’s a shame that such a talented actress had to be in such a weak movie.
Additionally, it’s oftentimes a greatly pretty film to look at, with director of photography Mattias Troelstrup putting a ton of focus on aerial shots of the forest and lots of wide shots that were impressive.
But just because this film has a great lead performance and some good cinematography doesn’t make it worth watching. In fact, The Forest is one of the worst horror pictures I have seen in quite some time. It also contains an ending that is extremely laughable and makes the rest of the film beforehand seem exceptionally pointless and confusing. This is not a trip worth taking.
The Forest suffers from an incredibly bland and underdeveloped script, lazy jump scares, and weak characters, even if the performances and cinematography are impressive.
Overall Grade: D-
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images
Directed by: Jason Zada
Distributed by: Gramercy Pictures (United States), Icon Film Distribution (International)
Release Date: January 8, 2016
Running Time: 93 minutes