2016 . 1h 33m . Horror, Mystery, Thriller.
A woman goes into Japan's Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror.
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Taylor Kinney, Noriko Sakura, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Yûho Yamashita, Rina Takasaki, Kikuo Ichikawa
So…it’s January again – must be time for yet another schlocky, lackluster horror picture from the dregs of Hollywood, eh? Enter The Forest. Er, on second thought…don’t. I don’t so much want to review this film as kinda wanna flunk it. This is one of the laziest, stupidest attempts to cash-in on (PG-13 friendly) Asian ghost stories in quite some time.
Natalie Dormer (of Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games films) gives a, ahem, spirited pair of performances as Sara and Jess Price, twin sisters with a dark shared history. As the film opens, Jess, a teacher in Japan, having been traumatized at a young age by their parents' death (the violent circumstances are revealed later on, though Sara was "protected" from their details), has traveled to the base of Mount Fuji in Japan to Aokigahara, "the Suicide Forest," an actual location where people go to kill themselves and where, we're told, in ancient times, families brought their sick, elderly and dying to leave them to die.
Sara, who has a propensity for awaking in a cold sweat from vivid nightmares the likes of which suggest her own traumatizing at a young age, has a twin's connection to Jess, and so is awakened one night with the feeling that Jess is in trouble, and so calls her sister with no response, hops on a plane, and travels to Japan (where she has no understanding of the language) to find and help her sister.
It's not long before Sara meets Aiden (Taylor Kinney), a dark, handsome young salt-and-pepper type, in a local bar, and is accompanied on her search by the man, who claims to write for an Australian travel magazine and has a proprietary interest in Sara's "human interest" story...and who (wait for it) may or may not be what he appears. They're soon joined by Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), a local guide who scours the forest looking for dead bodies and knows a little something about the signs of one's resolve or lack thereof, lending a kind of (false?) hope to Sara's efforts.
Horror has long been a genre devoid of much creativity and rife with unchecked aspiring directors looking to make a calling card, and so the film is the directorial debut of one Jason Zada, working from a fairly by-the-numbers screenplay by no less than three screenwriters. Zada shows a decent sense of atmosphere if no flair for style, often shooting scares in a rather straight-forward manner, relying on loud, amplified screams and digitally-manipulated expressions to carry the bulk of the weight in the "jump scare" department, all the while a percussive score bashes us over the head like a croquet mallet.
In the acting department, Dormer does what she can with two pretty underwritten characters whose most clearly defined differences seem to be darker hair for the one with the darker disposition and a slightly lighter, lilting register of voice for Sara. Ironically, given her name's French origins, where Dormer's rather wooden performance falls short is that it isn't more of a sleepwalk through the all-too standard proceedings. Of course, try as she might, she can't inject life into this hackneyed material.
There has been a quiet backlash prior to the film's opening over its rather crass, tasteless use of an actual tragic Japanese location to tell a toothless, exploitative ghost story, and one could argue about that offense. What is more offensive, if you ask me, is the film's final act, which piles on one dumb attempt at a "twist" after another, all telegraphed a mile away. The result is just another toothless Friday night special for the tween and teenage crowd scheduled for a release to pull money from all the post-New Year's Oscar-bait crowding the multiplex.