Natalie Dormer, of Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games fame stars in this damp squib of a supernatural horror film from rookie director Jason Zada. Dormer plays Sara Price, a young woman who senses that her identical twin sister Jess, who lives in Japan, is in trouble. Soon after Sara receives a phone call informing her that Jess has disappeared into Aokigahara forest, and not returned. Seemingly always having to rescue her sister from a myriad of problems, Sara flies to Tokyo to get to the bottom of her sisters disappearance. The big sticking point for Jess’s disappearance is that Aokigahara is no normal forest, it’s also known as the Suicide Forest, a place people go to die.
If you want an example of how to waste a beautiful and haunting location to make a horror film then look no further than this lazy attempt at a supernatural film. The film starts with a quick succession of short cuts and scenes in order to get Sara and the viewer into Japan and the forest at the quickest opportunity. Probably because they had nothing else interesting to say or do other than somebody has gone missing. Once Sara is in Japan she goes to the school her sister worked at, and visits a hotel on the outskirts of the forest itself hoping to find clues of her sisters whereabouts. At the hotel Sara comes across the wooden Aiden, a journalist doing a piece on the forest, who offers Sara to join him on a trek of the forest with his guide Michi. Aiden also takes an interest in Sara’s reason for being at Aokigahara forest, and with her permission wants to use it as a story. The next day Sara, Aiden, and Michi enter the forest and so begins a journey into the supernatural, but the downward spiral of quality had already started when the first couple of pathetic attempts at scares jumped towards the screen.
The Aokigahara forest is a real location, visually beautiful and ominously haunting, and The Forest does it little justice reducing it’s aura to a playground for Natalie Dormer to run around in for sixty minutes. Aside from wasting the massive potential the real life location holds, I found myself on a number of occasions questioning whether this actually is supposed to be a horror film. There are only a handful of attempts at jump scares, all of which are blatant, and zero attempts at creating any atmosphere. Which for a film being set in a forest where people commit suicide is an incredible feat. In fairness, there is one unsettling shot right at the end of the film as a the headlights of a car make out a vague shape in the darkness at the entrance to forest, but then it goes ahead and ruins it by thrusting a ghostly face into a close up…. The scares aren’t the only blatant aspects of the film, the story is horribly predictable despite it’s shoddy attempts to create twists and turns, and embed doubt into the viewers mind. Well, unless your a 12 year old sneakingly watching this film without your parents permission during a sleepover, then this story ain’t fooling anybody.
It’s clear the creators have little idea what makes an effective horror film, all attempts at fright are poorly executed ghoulish faces facing the camera. The most frightening element of the film is actually the horrific character of Sara, whose actions and decisions are just downright stupid to the point where you border on going from mental face palms to physical ones. In an age where female characters are becoming stronger, and better represented, this is a step back, thankfully nobody will pay The Forest much attention, and neither should you.