The Forest (2016)

Posted by Joel Copling on January 7, 2016

One can imagine that the screenplay (by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Kitai) for "The Forest" was once in better shape than the final product implies. There is a touching story underneath about the twin siblings at its center and their otherworldly sense about each other, which might be mere genetic intuition or something more supernatural. Perhaps in an earlier draft of that screenplay, it was the former; here, perhaps because it was primed to be the first wide release of a calendar year and one positioned as a horror outing (two ingredients that usually spell disaster), it is the latter. The fact remains, though, that the film more closely resembles a melodrama that has had jump-scares shoved in for the appeasement of the target audience.

The twin siblings in question are Sara and Jess Price (both played by Natalie Dormer). Little is done to establish that these are, in fact, separate people, with the exception of their hair color (Sara's is blonde, and Jess's is brunette) and the fact that Dormer seems, in one scene, to occupy two spaces at once (an illusion that neither the actress nor director Jason Zada is able to sell). Anyway, Jess, years ago, moved to Tokyo to become a teacher to a troupe of students, and the latest class trip was into the Aokigahara Forest, a Japanese source of both tragedy (Those who went in did so to kill themselves) and urban legend (It is, inevitably, a feeding trough of ghost stories).

Sara is told by everyone that Jess's death is inevitable, but she refuses to believe, leaving husband Rob (Eoin Macken, who is introduced and abandoned for so long that we forget a husband figure exists until his re-appearance in the final ten minutes) to search for her. She employs the help of Aiden (Taylor Kinney), a journalist who has just finished a stint in Australia and now wants to move on to some experiences in Japan, and Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), the guide on "suicide watch" in the forest who reports and tags the bodies of the dead so that rangers can remove them. What follows is both expected (ghoulish ghosties with computerized, metamorphosed faces) and, in an unedifying way, surprising (so many fake-outs involving what is real and what is in Sara's head that it becomes unintentionally comic).

The problem is that the stories of those souls who entered the Aokigahara neither to return nor to live are not ones of studio-glossed horror but of sadness, and this movie, whatever state in which it might have been previously, doesn't seem to grasp that. The ending is, rather fittingly, depressing and mostly hopeless, but it's a case of being borderline-exploitative rather than mournful. The performances are, for the most part, serviceable, though Kinney exists to function as a meaningless red herring (Better is Ozawa, who captures Michi's sadness and is, rather suggestively, the target of the film's last-laugh jump scare). "The Forest," for all of its ambition to approach such a mysterious place, is tellingly reliant upon the familiar and concerned with the banal.

Film Information

Natalie Dormer (Sara Price/Jess Price), Taylor Kinney (Aiden), Yukiyoshi Ozawa (Michi), Eoin Macken (Rob), Noriko Sakura (Mayumi), Yuho Yamashita (Sakura), Rina Takasaki (Hoshiko), Kikuo Ichikawa (Businessman).

Directed by Jason Zada and written by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Kitai.

Rated PG-13 (disturbing thematic content/images).

95 minutes.

Released on January 8, 2016.