(Scored out of 10; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
Content with churning out jump scare after jump scare, The Forest fails to capitalize on its unsettling premise and setting. Natalie Dormer puts forth an admirable performance that falls just shy of making up for the rest of the film’s mediocre qualities. Like the one Sarah falls into, The Forest is rife with plot holes. Making this one nature walk you’re better off passing on.
Following the tragic death of their parents, twin sisters Sarah and Jess Price (both played by Natalie Dormer) are left to look after one another, though more often than not, it’s Sarah coming to the rescue. As adults, their bond only grew stronger, despite the physical distance between them growing ever larger. When Sarah awakens from a terrible nightmare involving her twin, she rushes to Tokyo, her sister’s last known location.
Upon arriving in Japan and conducting a bit of research, Sarah finds out that her sister may have ventured into the eerie Aokigahara Forest, also known as the “Suicide Forest”. Legend says that countless souls ventured into the woods to put an end to their miseries. Though local reports claim that the forest is inhabited by something much more sinister than the deceased. Feeling her “twinstinct” kick into gear, Sarah decides to search the forest, employing the aid of travel writer, Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and a local forest guide (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to accompany her. Sensing Sarah’s negative feelings, her guide warns her of the angry spirits dwelling in the dark corners of the forest. In her vulnerable state, the forest itself is determined to prevent Sarah from ever leaving.
Split almost right down the middle, The Forest feels like two different films. At times, it is an intriguing mystery: A twin sister putting her life on hold to ensure the safety of the other. Chasing down leads, interacting with potential suspects and ultimately braving the unknown where her sister may be hiding. The second half of the film feels like an exercise in creating the most clichéd horror experience possible. Squandering the nuanced performance of your lead, turning your stunning setting into a monotonous bore and throwing any semblance of story out the window. The Forest truly is a missed opportunity.
Before bashing the films many negatives, I’ll shine some light on the things it did well. For one, Natalie Dormer nails the dual role of Sarah and Jess. The first half of the film (not to mention Dormer’s acting) does a great job of differentiating the twins and making them interesting enough to want to follow into a spooky forest full of vengeful spirits.
The supporting players are mainly one-note outlines intended to either round out Sarah’s story or impede it in some way. Taylor Kinney’s Aiden walks a fine line between friend and foe, leaving audiences guessing as to his true intentions. The intrigue surrounding his character, as well as the rest of the narrative in general, fall to the way side in the later moments of the film but he serves his purpose.
The film begins to fall apart when first time director, Jason Zada attempts to blend the initial drama with Aokigahara’s ominous lore. Instead of carrying the level of care the first half had through the rest of the film, The Forest falls into an onslaught of genre tropes and choreographed jump scares. Any sophistication the film had prior to this is completely lost and makes the finished product completely underwhelming, not to mention not very scary. Where Sarah began the story as an intelligent and careful would-be rescuer, the script turns her into a fumbling idiot. Making every possible wrong decision, refusing to listen to her clearly sane companions, it’s as if she is a whole new character.
Throw in the fact that Sarah is startled to realize that the random Japanese schoolgirl running around the forest isn’t her friend and you have one of the slowest characters in recent memory. The anti-climactic finale is thrown together in a desperate attempt to tie in the emotional undertones planted from the solid outset of the film. Instead, it becomes a case of too little too late. By the time the finale comes around I had forgotten about Sarah/Jess’ dark history and the reveals turn into noise.
With the disappointing character work, it falls upon the titillating scenery to capture the minds of the audience. Unfortunately, that too succumbs to the amateurish hand of Zada and his crew. Taking a vast, versatile location like Aokigahara and relegating it to a couple of abandoned campsites and a clichéd cabin can’t be taken as anything other than missteps. While there are moments of genuine beauty, the forest is ultimately under, and poorly, utilized.
At times, The Forest is creepy. The initial mystery, the interesting lore surrounding Aokigahara and the layered performance on the part of Natalie Dormer combine to make a half decent film. But the unfocused, poorly executed, clichéd horror trappings Zada and his team fall into spoil any goodwill garnered from the films opening. The Forest will provide a couple of frights, though they are delivered almost solely by cheap jump scares, but in the end, the uneven nature of the film renders it a dud.
Overall The Forest gets 5/10.
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