Forest, The Review

The Forest poster
Title: The Forest
Director: Jason Zada
Starring: Natalie Dormer,
Taylor Kinney
Genre: Horror
Runtime: 1 Hour 33 mins
Music: Bear McCreary
Studio: Icon Film Distribution
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 15
Release Date: US: Jan 08 2016
UK: Feb 26 2016
See If You Like: Blair Witch Project, Ringu,

If Natalie Dormer goes down to the woods today, she’s in for a big surprise…

Horror in 2016 doesn’t look to be a fruitful year if the crop of upcoming trailers proves anything. The formula of taking fan favourite female supporting actress from a popular TV show and throwing them as the main focus to carry a kooky take on a scary movie seems random more than anything, yet there’s three of them about to drop on our lap. The first one sees popular bitchy king-eater Natalie Dormer of Game Of Thrones fame go on a trip into the infamous suicide forest of Japan in The Forest.

Identical twins Sara & Jess Price (both Dormer) share a unique bond where they can feel when someone is in trouble. After feeling something off with Jess, Sara jumps on the first plane to Tokyo to investigate her sudden disappearance from her English teaching job. She finds evidence indicating Jess was thinking of going to the Aokigahara forest in the shadow of Mount Fiji. With Jess having a history of suicide bids, Sara believes that she was going to the infamous spot to kill herself as the forest has a reputation of being a popular spot for people to end their lives. With Aiden, a travel writer, (Taylor Kinney, Chicago Fire) in tow to help investigate, Sara runs into numerous Yūrei – Japanese departed spirits – that play mind games with her through visions and terror.

The most striking take-away for The Forest is a noticeable lack of quality running throughout. The first few months of the year in the US is a traditional dumping ground for films perceived  to  be of low quality and this movie does nothing to highlight any good attributes it may possess. The acting won’t win any awards or be seen as a boost to any cast or crew member’s CV, although as a vehicle, Dormer is actually given a fair bit with the whole twin dynamic and gives both their own distinct personality to show off her range when neither is written particularly well. In fact, her performances alone adds way more emotion in the dull, inevitable twists & revelations in the closing third than any screenwriter & producer on this could think of. Though first time film director Jason Zada (of digital marketing campaign fame) can definitely get a good performance from those capable in the cast. Kinney on the other hand is so wooden, you’d be forgiven for thinking they cast a tree from shooting locations into proceedings.

Forest, The 01As a horror film set in the woods, The Forest is a mostly scare-free clearing. There are your usual lazy jump scares, so your mileage may vary; you get dream sequence little girls’ faces changing into CG monstrosities before wake ups, extreme close ups, the usual. In fact, the extreme close up gimmick that this film relies on is over-killed. Three times or more, we find Sara going up to someone or something turned away or with an obscured face to reveal a scary face, before we quickly cut to Sara’s reaction, before cutting back to the revealed creature pulling in close to the camera. By using the same tactic, the scares become neutered rather quickly when it’s the same. Even the human psychological horror of a protagonist being in a situation surrounded by people willing to end their lives and powerless to stop it is downplayed. It was difficult to really get behind events unfolding because we’re told about the protagonist’s unreliable vision as Sara is unable to distinguish between reality and illusion; it curtails any surprise or shock from the final moments. With the idea of Aokigahara being rather neutered, there is not a great deal left to get under your skin. Sara’s defiant forward facing walk through the woods whilst an on-looking Yūrei whispers for her to turn around from afar is probably the spookiest highlight, as well as the creepy as all hell smile on the resident Japanese schoolgirl, but these are merely short moments in the runtime and instantly leave the film’s train of thought.

If The Forest does one thing competently, it’s that the forest itself is presented as a viable threat… to a point. Whilst the majority of scenes is not Aokigahara itself, the location used is thick and lush with sound being trapped in the undergrowth. Elements of the famed suicide forest such as decayed corpses with degenerated clothing that have not been found in months and colourful ropes & ribbons for rangers to find people’s bodies do add to an unsettling atmosphere. However, the lack of doing anything interesting or away from the traditional beaten track of a western bog standard horror makes such an enticing locale a wasted opportunity. A step above screaming teens undoubtedly, you want to see some outlandish, mystical eastern aspects used as a terrifying threat to support the location, but sadly there’s nothing used. Zada makes an acceptable looking film that runs okay yet he neglects to add any spinning rims to add depth to the themes covered.

The Forest is not exactly a bad film; there’s just so many unexciting beats repeated along with a distinct lack of fresh ideas that it will immediately escape your thoughts. There’s no uneasy moments of horror generated from a genuinely creepy character of a location, with lazy jump scare tactics outwearing their welcome quickly. Natalie Dormer does well with what she’s given, even if it’s not a great deal. Whilst it’s certainly okay to go into these woods today, The Forest doesn’t offer any big or satisfying surprises with it’s undoubtedly intriguing locale.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife

Verdict Ratings 03
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