From the moment I heard about this film, I wanted to see it. It’s horror, it takes place in Japan, specifically Aokigahara (one of the places on my first list of haunted locations I’d like to visit), and the trailers made this thing look awesome. I was excited.

Sadly, the trailers were better than the movie itself, and I will explain why:

First, the story. Natalie Dormer plays Sarah Price, a woman with a cliched psychic connection to her troubled identical twin sister Jess, also played by Dormer. When there’s a disturbance in the Force, Sarah learns that her sister, who was teaching in Japan, has gone into Aokigahara, a forest near Mount Fuji that is a common place for suicides and has a reputation for being haunted by the extremely angry spirits trapped there. Sarah heads to Japan to save her sister, and ventures into the forest, which in turn brings all sorts of hell upon her and unearths inner darkness Sarah never wanted dredged up.

I had a lot of problems with this movie. First, there’s the protagonist. Sarah Price is not a very interesting character. It’s no fault of Dormer–I’ve seen her in other stuff, I know she’s a great actress–but beyond the psychic connection and a reckless love for her sister, the character is rather flat and dull. She does border on interesting when talking about her past, but that’s it. In fact, most of the characters are rather boring. Probably the only one that peaks your interest is Aiden, who helps Sarah look for her sister, but that’s mostly because you’re never sure what his motives are or if he can be trusted. And Sarah’s husband? You really could cut him from the film and it wouldn’t affect a thing.

Next, the storytelling and the mood. The movie moves rather slowly through most of the first hour, establishing exposition and introducing us to the relationship between Sarah and Jess. Important, but not particularly interesting. It isn’t until they’re already deep in the forest that the story actually tries to scare you, but even then most of the scares are jump scares, and even the best of jump scares are meaningless if they’re not tempered with other stuff, like a tense, suspenseful and horrifying mood, which the movie only really does just the once. By the end of the movie, when the film tries to surprise you with a few twists, one feels forced and awkward, while the other you saw coming a mile away. Just not very effective in terms of storytelling or making you feel scared.

Finally, there’s the effects. Now, I know on a budget of ten million dollars you can’t do much in the special effects department, but the effects they use in this film are for the most part pretty stupid. There’s a scene where a ghost is revealed in a cave, and I was expecting like out of The Ring or The Grudge (originally Japanese stories, if you didn’t know). Instead we get a goofy fanged monster-girl that looks more like a carnival attraction monster than a real ghost, and in the last few minutes of the film we get some CGI ghosts, which are about as scary as a frying pan. There’s one shot in the last few seconds of movie with such a ghost, and I felt more contempt than fear when I saw it, because it was so obviously fake. They might as well have had an actor put on a sheet with eye-holes, save a few dollars on computer-rendering, because that’s how lame it was.

So did The Forest have anything I liked? Actually yes: besides beautiful shots of Tokyo (always nice to see Tokyo when it’s not animated or hand-drawn), the film does a great job of making you question what’s real. Once Sarah is really trapped in Aokigahara, you find yourself questioning everything: river directions, people’s intentions, whether anything you’re seeing is real or all in Sarah’s head. You even question for most of the film what is the real source of the hauntings Sarah experiences: is it ghosts or a living forest? Or is it maybe psychological or even an infection from some bug? The movie makes a good case for all four throughout the course of the story, and even now I’m not really sure what the true answer is. Not that I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the answer, mind you.

Another thing that the movie has going for it is that when the jump scares occur, you really do jump pretty hard. One woman in the theater even cried out after one particular jump scare. That’s not enough to redeem the film, but it does work in its favor. And finally, the film’s got the wheels in my head turning, looking for stories that could come out of it. In my opinion, inspiring me and other writers and creative types is always a good thing, especially if it leads to good stories.

On the whole though, I find The Forest below average, earning a 2.6 out of 5. It’s premise is promising, and it tries hard, but on the whole can’t deliver. You’d be better off staying at home and renting The Ring or The Grudge if you want Japanese-inspired horror. At least this film didn’t ruin my desire to visit Aokigahara (only to see it and sate my horror author’s interest in creepy stuff, though. I would not visit it for the reason other people do).

And if you would like some good horror, consider some of my work. Right now, all my books are on sale until Thursday from Amazon, Createspace and Smashwords. Check them out now and pick up a great read for an even greater price. Trust me, this is an opportunity you do not want to miss.

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Comments
  1. Not that I was actually planning on seeing that movie (even if it does have handsome Taylor Kinney in it), your review didn’t make me think otherwise either. It sounds more like a disappointment :/

  2. I admit I skimmed this because this is on my to watch list, but glad I am waiting to netflix it

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