Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Forest (2016): Review

The Forest is a 2016 supernatural horror film. Directed by Jason Zada and starring Natalie Dormer (The Tudors) and Taylor Kinney (Zero Dark Thirty). The film is set around the real life Aokigahara forest, also known as the suicide forest.

Sara and Jess (both played by Dormer) are identical twins with a troubled past. After Jess goes missing in the suicide forest, Sara fears the worst and makes her way to Japan to find her sister. Aided by suspicious journalist Aiden (Kinney) and a local guide they begin an excursion into the forest, finding traces of Jess to suggest she has committed suicide. However, Sara refuses to believe this and insists on staying in the forest with Aiden. The more lost they become, the more the forest reveals it's own demons and Sara becomes drawn into a psychological battle to save her sister.

I had been aware of a film being made about the famous Aokigahara forest for some time, however, I was expecting the, as yet unproduced, Japanese film by legendary director Hideo Nakata (Ring, Dark Water). Therefore, what we end up with here feels like an American remake of a Japanese film that hasn't even come out yet and has more than a whiff of cultural appropriation. Obviously, the suicide forest is an excellent setting for a horror movie and the direction in this film is fantastic creating a real atmospheric dread throughout. There were also some genuinely creepy bits in the forest scenes and it reminded me of a cross between The Blair Witch Project (1999) and The Grudge (2004).

However, a film depicting such a real and tragic place is always in danger of veering into poor taste and this is made all the worse by the white American central characters. For a protagonist, I found Sara pretty unlikeable and she very much plays the American idiot abroad ie "You're eating what?". The character's lack of respect for Japanese culture and superstition soon infects the rest of the film and, although there are some Japanese characters, the film eventually comes off as a white washed interpretation of what is a very serious issue in Japan.

The Forest held my attention and even scared me a few times but, more often than not, it strayed into over the top tropes and became an irritant with a fairly poor ending to boot. American interpretations of Japanese horror are rarely successful (with the very notable exception of The Ring) but they are usually at least based on Japanese source material. Not terrible by any means but, I would imagine, Nakata can do a lot better.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of The Forest? Are you familiar with the Aokigahara forest?


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