What it's about:
Sara Price heads off to Japan to look for her twin sister, Jess, who was last seen entering the notorious “Suicide Forest”.
What we thought:
Tapping into a real-world phenomenon like Japan's infamous suicide forest, Aokigahara (though actually shot in a forest in Serbia, apparently), which, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't featured in an American horror film before, should be almost enough to give the Forest an edge over most modern day horror movies.
Sadly, though it's not without one or two vaguely creepy moments, the film constantly falls foul of the same trappings that have put the genre into such disrepair over the last decade or so.
It's all here: the quiet-quiet-BANG jump scares, the intrusive score that blares every time something paranormal appears on screen (effectively the horror equivalent of a laugh-track) and that final shot that is literally the same in seemingly every single horror movie released these days. It's incredibly lazy stuff from newbie director, Jason Zada, and his team of similarly fresh-faced writers that comes across as way more jaded and cynical than a debut feature film really should.
Natalie Dormer is solidly good as the film's protagonist(s) but considering how impressive she is in her extensive TV work that's hardly surprising. She just about keeps the whole thing afloat even as she is paired with Taylor Kinney, who is rather less good, as an untrustworthy journalist (of course)/ travel partner. And, yes, of course the characters to get the most amount of screen time in a film set in Japan are a couple of Westerners. Honestly, by the halfway mark of the film, it may as well actually be set in Serbia for all that it makes use of its Japanese setting.
And, really, for all of its cliches and half-hearted jump scares, by far the most disappointing thing about the Forest is just how little it makes use of Japanese culture. Now, of course, anyone with even the most rudimentary familiarity with the horror genre, will be well aware of just how huge horror is in Japan. From Godzilla to the Ring, Japan has released countless, often excellent, horror films over the years – many, many of which have been remade for English-speaking audiences. As such, it's hardly fair to say that Japan's mythology is entirely alien to horror fans but it's still shameful to see just how little the Forest actually makes use of its non-Westernised myth and culture.
It's not just its locale that is neglected, though. Again, there's not much new here in theory but surely the film could have done something with its twin sisters, a staple of creep horror, or the idea that Suicide Forest may have actual paranormal goings-on or it just might be such that it plays on your worst psychological fears. It touches on all this but never more than superficially, again opting for easy scares over something more nuanced and atmospheric.
Ultimately, the Forest isn't a terrible movie, as it is basically well put together and fairly confidently told by its young director but its utter lack of nuance, invention and genuine scares makes it yet another modern day horror film that can quite safely be skipped by all but the biggest horror completists. Add it to the pile!
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