The Forest: A Big Pile of Meh
Dir. Jason Zada (2016)
A woman goes into Aokigahara, the Japanese Suicide Forest, to search for her twin sister who went missing.
I love Natalie Dormer. She's been in a lot of great stuff, from The Tudors to Game of Thrones (spoiler alert), and she's been fantastic in all of them. The Forest was no different, though I think she's going to have to pick her movie roles a tad bit better.
The Forest is about a woman who is searching for her twin sister, recently missing and last seen entering Aokigahara, the Japanese Suicide Forest. It's a real place, one that is immensely terrifying, where hundreds of Japanese people have gone to end their lives over the years. You can find pictures all over the internet of rotting, decaying bodies hanging from the trees therein. It's a prime vacation spot, is what I'm saying.
For a pretty fun premise, the movie wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It had a lot of jump scares, which is either good or bad depending on your general opinions of horror. While I'm not a huge fan of jump scares, and generally find them cheap, I am a fan of the "guy standing in the background that the character can't see but the viewer can" thing, like in The Strangers. This movie used that several times really well as well. The story is well laid out, it's a cool idea, and the reasons why these people are going into the Suicide Forest seems logical. Most of the movie makes actual sense, the characters make smart decisions for the most part, and the movie, for containing as little action as it does in the first hour or so, keeps itself from becoming boring.
Now, don't take any of that to mean that this is a good movie: it isn't, really. Don't get me wrong, I've seen much, much worse, but all of the clever and believable buildup of this film is blown to smithereens about 3/4 of the way through. The plot becomes jumbled, people start behaving stupidly, and all of the things they were talking about being a danger in the first half of the movie gets completely ignored from there on out. There are some creepy, and even scary, scenes, but the movie just can't find its footing after that.
The movie is very Japanese, playing on the local folklore and traditions, containing ghosts that trick you into dooming yourself, torturing you with things that aren't really there to convince you to kill yourself. The movie generally makes good use of these Japanese beliefs, though some have called it "cultural appropriation," which is not a thing and accusations of such general need to be stopped here and now. If we're only allowed to make our art and culture about things that come directly from our society, life in general would be a whole lot more boring, and nearly half of all languages would cease to exist. So that's a stupid argument to begin with. So there's that.
Natalie Dormer without a British accent is weird, but she does a great job of it in this film. Jason Zada's direction is surprisingly adept, especially considering this is his first film, and he does the best he can with what he's been given. It's the writing that fails in this one. He wasn't given a whole lot to work with, nor was the generally excellent cast. Most irritatingly, the film closes with the quick zoom to the scary face that has become the norm now, unfortunately, resulting in a quick eye roll from me and my completely writing off the film. Thankfully, the last 3/4 of the movie deserved that anyway.
Bottom Line: Not a great film by any means, but Dormer was great and Zada was adequate in his direction. Probably worth a miss for most, unless you really like jump scares and ridiculous endings. 1.5 out of 5 stars.