For the first time in ages, I went to see a film without watching the trailer for it. I’d of course heard about it, but it was ultimately a friend that suggested I should check it out, after they had seen it at the cinema. All that I really knew was that it involved Game of Thrones Natalie Dormer running around in dark woods, and that was about as much encouragement I needed. It was a horror, set in some woods, with a british actress from a popular TV series..what could go wrong?
So the story is set in the infamous Aokigahara forest, also eerily known as the Suicide Forest. This dense woodland, sitting in the shadow of Mount Fuji, lives up to it’s name, as records of suicides in the area increased each year, reaching over 200 in 2010. It was at this point that the local government stopped publishing how many bodies they discovered each year, in a thin hope of reducing the association of the forest with suicide. You could not have asked for a more disturbing setting for horror film than a spooky forest which is a notoriously common suicide site. Even more so when you realise that bodies are constantly being discovered, sometimes years after the victims deaths. Walking those those dense woodlands, there’s a good chance that you’ll come face to face with a nasty surprise.
It’s still pretty amazing too me how badly the film makers missed the mark here. How can you make a film about a melancholy forest and forget that it’s about a forest? You see, the film veers away from the tragic history and supernatural qualities of the woodland and insteads turns it’s attention to the main character. It’s a mistake that leaves the film sadly void of any real tension or atmosphere. I’ve read people’s personal accounts of visiting Aokigahara, and some of them left me with goose bumps. They speak of the forest being unnaturally still, that it’s lack of wind or animals leaves the woodland floor a gaunt and unsettling place. People found themselves speaking in whispers, the silence so great that they feared to disturb the stillness that surrounded them. Picture a place so densely packed with trees, that the wind itself fails to move the foliage, and that with every step, your move deeper into the endless maze of trees. It’s an unnerving, unnatural place, yet Director Jason Zada decided that Forest was not all that important. Transfixed with telling the story of Sara Price (Dorma) and her missing sister Jess, the film causally disregards the woodland in favour of clunky storytelling. It misses the entire point, it should have been about the place rather than the people. Don’t get me wrong, we need to have a story to move things along, but the script lacked any real interest for me and the ending was just a little convoluted for my liking. We spent far too much time learning about the two sisters and not enough about the forest they are in.
Talking of the end, when the scenes quickly switch between the two sisters, it left me a little confused to what was going on. Yes yes, one has blond and was was brown haired, but that was quickly forgotten as the brief glimpses of Jess at the beginning flew by pretty quickly. But at the end, Sara was running around at night, the bright blue “day for night” effect made everything look darker, including her hair. It took a few minutes for me to figure out what i was looking at. Maybe it’s just my bad memory, but I just felt that edits were cut too hard and quick, leaving me scratching my head, wondering what the hell was happening. Seriously, after all this time Jess was still alive? She had left her camp and supplies and presumably been wandering around the woods for days without food or water. Who is she, Bear Grylls? Lets also not forget that the “evil” forces had failed to get to Jess. She had been wandering around for days, and survived, yet they only took a night to kill Sara. It’s also a little too convenient that a search party discovers Jess, and that it’s Sara’s fiance that find hers…at night, in a 14 square mile stretch of woodland.
There was a lot of contradiction going on too, the ending itself being a great example. Tour guide Michi says over and over how they should not be there at night, and he’s very keen to leave. We also learn that people get lost in the woods all the time. So why would Michi go against his training and instinct and arrange a huge search party, especially at night, for two random people he barely knows. We saw how quickly Michi abandoned the tent man in the woods. A brief chat with the suicidal fellow and he was happy to move along, clearly not a man of moral compass. And this raises even more questions. Why was a search party never sent out for Jess? I guess being blond makes all the difference.
It does have one saving grace, it’s a beautiful film, with some very great grading choices. It starts with subtle shifts between cool and warm colours, differentiating between present and past in a clear and artistic level, followed by beautiful vistas and shots of the Aokigahara Forest. The film manages to be stunning at times. It’s just a shame that the story drags its heels and deviates from the most obvious source of terror, the forest itself. You get a sense that productions values were quite high, but the skills of director and editor may not have been up to scratch. You know what else, it’s not hard to create a split screen effect so that you can have one actor playing two parts. They really crashed out on this. There were no split screen shoots here of the twin girls, just shots of Natalie Dormer from two different angles (and two different wigs), made to look like she’s having a conversation with her sister (self). This type of TV styled “special effects” cheapens each scene it happened in. In fact, it was because of this that I missed out on the whole blond hair brown hair thing. I was too busy critiquing the crappy efforts of the film crew to even spot this important piece of information.
As for scares..well, there isn’t many. A few crude jump scares and some atmospheric scenery, but the music, acting and script all made the film too generic and uninteresting for it to ever be seen as scary. Even the “scary” ending was a little too cliche. Once you’ve seen one person dragged down under ground by rotting hands, you’ve seen them all. The Forest is, yet again, another production of modern horror, for people that don’t watch horror. It’s easy to see how a horror virgin, could misconstrue this as being frightening, but for us hard core veterans, this is nothing more than a walk round the park. It’s not challenging, nor does it grip you emotionally. It’s just background noise.
The film’s pace and tone are ok, it drags here and there but generally gets to where it needs to be, It’s just let down by the lack of imagination and complete lack of any scares.. seriously..horror this is not. I don’t even think that the blame lies on its cast. Dormer is not that bad, playing the two sisters. Taylor Kinney manages to be wooden and forced, and I failed to understand if I should like him or hate him. The script certainly did not give either of the them much chance to show off their full potential. You know, it was hard to like Dormer’s character too, let alone support her hard-headed slog into the dark forest. I’m not sure how many times you have to be warned before you listen, but Sara Price ignores everyone she meets, going into the woods, staying there overnight and then running off alone. Really?!?
Here’s the funny thing…. i strangely enjoyed The Forest. Despite all the negative comments and the lack of any real scares, the film was fun. it had a good production value..good cast, and it was kinda creepy at times. It failed to rouse me though. I’ve been watching this stuff for the last 30 odd years, and The Forest is nothing more than waterdown horror for young teens. Oh… the bane of PG13 rated movies!! Lets face it, The Forest was never going to be amazing, not with a low budget and amateur director at the helm, let along it’s low age rating. Yet is has appeal, and I guess that enough. Horror, this is not.
If you want to watch a movie that builds tension whilst people are running around lost in woods, check out the Blair Witch project, a film 15 years junior.
- Story 34% 34%
- Scares 20% 20%
- Gore 5% 5%
- Music 20% 20%