MOVIE REVIEW: Don’t Enter ‘The Forest,’ Please

The Forest

Film: The Forest
Directed by: Jason Zada
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa

It’s the beginning of the new year, folks. With that comes many beautiful things in film, like new indies to be seen or award-nominated movies to binge. Then there’s the other side of the spectrum—a much less hopeful and wide-eyed time to venture out to the theater. It’s called January, where studios sometimes dump their undesirables hoping to make a profit. The Forest is one of those undesirables. It’s limp attempt at filling 90 minutes with terror will fade even before the credits roll. This is the kind of cold and calculated fare seen passed off of the conveyor belt of studio horror productions. “Why aren’t there any good horror movies to be seen anymore?” the people decry. Well, stop seeing the bad ones.

It has just come to Sara’s (Natalie Dormer) attention that her twin sister, Jess, has gone missing into a forest in Japan. Unbeknownst to Sara, that forest is the Aokigahara forest (AKA “The Suicide Forest”) where lonely people go in and are never heard from again. Now begins Sara’s journey to find her sister, whom she still thinks is alive. Accompanied by Australian journalist, Aiden (Taylor Kinney), and travel guide, Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). Together, they try to find Jess, unknowing of the dark horrors waiting betwixt the trees.

If you read that previous paragraph as if the story were being told by the campfire, then my intention was successful. This is the kind of pulpy story, partially based on fact, that may resonate with a group of people surrounding that familiar pyre with friends. In a theater, though, not so much. The Forest is the kind of film that has just enough story to stretch for 30 minutes. A beginning, a hook and a conclusion. Between that trifecta lies the same tired old tropes you’ve become so familiar with. There’s the “flickering light” sequence where something jumps out at you when the lights turn on and off. There’s the “don’t go in there” sequence where the main character continues to walk down some dark and scary place while knowing that it’s totally against her best interests. There’s even the “dark face and piercing scream” sequence where the main character comes upon a familiar face, only to be surprised when that face distorts and lets out a shriek before cutting to something else.

The Forest‘s biggest problem isn’t failing at being scary, it’s succeeding at being boring. There are intriguing pieces scattered throughout the narrative. Spoiler: the forest is filled with dead souls that encourage innocent bystanders to kill themselves. A forest full of Jack Kevorkians. Could have been cool, right? Instead, the movie rushes from jump scare to jump scare, completely sticking to the pre-designed structure set for it. The story has been cut from a roll of dough and thrown into a different pan. “Don’t go off the path,” multiple characters say during their walk in the woods. Clearly, that aligned with the creative intent behind the film.

Dormer and co. are milking the script for all its worth here. There’s no room for the main actress to actually act here. Where there should be dramatic beats for this tortured person to reflect upon, the story moves to a dream sequence or throws something else in your face. It’s unrelenting, making you as tired as the main players as they all are lured to their fates (or salvation—there’s some of that too).

Don’t go see The Forest, it’s as simple as that. There’s a concept here like there are concepts in every other film ever made. “Another one,” the iPhone-peering audience says as they watch DJ Khaled snapchats instead of watching the film. Yes, “another one” is pretty apt here.


Sam Cohen
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