This Film Should Make Like A Tree And Leaf

Forest PosterTo properly review this film, The Forest, it helps to have a sense of humor.  The film’s director, Jason Zada, is making his feature film debut.  Zada is best known for the “Elf Yourself” marketing campaign for OfficeMax, and for Take This Lollipop, a horror-film short to warn about having personal information online.

The Forest is meant to be a serious horror film, but to be honest, there is not one single scare in the entire film.

Natalie Dormer, from Game of Thrones fame, stars in the title role playing a set of twin sisters alongside Taylor Kinney (Chicago Hope, Zero Dark Thirty, Rock the Kasbah).

The film takes place in Japan, specifically in the Aokigahara Forest, which is known as the “suicide forest”.  For many decades, it was reported that this was the place that the elderly were taken and left to die as a form of euthanasia, in a practice called Ubasute.  A book written by Seichō Matsumoto called Kuroi Jukai, or “black sea of trees” popularized the site as a place to go and commit suicide, and is done often these days by hanging or drug overdoses.  Apparently, there are over a hundred people who attempt this every year, with higher numbers near 200, with over 50 successful attempts in certain years.  Various police groups, and the like, are tasked with going into the forest to retrieve the bodies.  It is one of the top 3 suicide locations in the world.

While this setting of this tale is definitely creepy, especially when coupled with its association of demons in Japanese mythology, it unfortunately can’t really rise to the level of expectation the setting casts upon this film.

Forest 2

Dormer plays Sara Price, an American who gets the Spidey twin-sense that something is wrong with her twin sister, Jess (also played by Dormer).  Sara and Jess had experienced a trauma as children, and Jess seems to have taken more of the impact of that trauma into adulthood, as evidenced by her having attempted to take her own life 2 times previously.

It is thought that Jess had her life back on track, having moved to Tokyo, Japan to teach English.  After taking the children to the forest on a field trip, Jess heads back on her own, and is not heard from again prompting authorities to issue a missing person report.

Now you are probably wondering why she would take children to such a place on a field trip, but it is explained that because the forest sits on the base of Mt. Fuji, it also is seen as a special place with historically significant ties to the mountain, and therefore is perfectly normal to take children there.  They’ll of course be safe, as will everyone, if they would just listen to the park rangers who tell them to “stay on the path” or “don’t go in there if you are sad”.

The Forest

Sara flies to Japan to try and track down her sister, against the better wishes of her boyfriend/husband(?) Rob (Eoin Macken, The Tudors).  Once there, Sara begins her journey, tagging along with Australian journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who wants to write an article about Sara’s story, and the tragic event from her childhood. Led by a local Japanese official, who does suicide body recovery searches in the forest from time to time, Sara and Aiden venture deep into the forest to search out Jess.

Director Zada utilizes some familiar tricks of the horror genre to manipulate the tension such as the typical blinking, unreliable florescent lighting in an old building to cast shadows to better hide the unsurprising jump scare that everyone knows is coming.  Mostly, these jumps aren’t from the demons that lurk in the forest, but simple mundane things only meant to keep you off guard…or rather to wake you up from your Forest-induced slumber.

The Forest

The film is predictable and bland. Despite Natalie Dormer giving it all she has, there is really nothing worth going into this Forest to see.  Taylor Kinney’s Australian character Aiden, doesn’t even have an Australian accent….so why bother setting him up as an Australian journalist?  Lazy execution of details.

The film seeks to deal with the serious issue of suicide, but instead of being a cautionary tale to keep people world-wide from making the trek to Aokigahara to accomplish their grim intentions in The Forest, this film make actually accomplish the opposite.  It may actually force all who watch it to contemplate that dark fate, if only to escape the terrible boredom that has seized control of them over the 93 minute run time.

It is no wonder that this film is being released in January, opposite Alejandro Iñárritu’s incredibly beautiful and violent The Revenant, where it can easily disappear.  If The Revenant were a tree and were the only release to open opposite The Forest, we could still say that it would be hard to see The Forest , especially from all of these trees.  Bad joke, but like I said earlier, when reviewing this film, it helps to have a sense of humor.

Unfortunately, this was a serious effort at making a horror film, and not a joke.  The forced twist at the end and the closing shot simply make it another cheap B-movie horror film looking to forcibly leave the proverbial door open for a sequel.  It doesn’t deserve a first screening. All we should really ask this film to do is make like a tree and leaf.

Mt. Fuji in autumn