Aokigahara, also known as the Sea of Trees, is a forest that lies at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The forest, which has a historic association with demons in Japanese mythology, is a popular place for suicides. The high rate in recent years has led officials to downplay the association of suicide with the forest, and government has refused to comment. It is said that ubasute, an act in which a sick or elderly relative was carried to a remote location and left to die, was allegedly practiced there into the 19th century, and the forest is reputedly haunted by the ghosts of those who were left.
Forest of the Living Dead (aka The Forest), is based on this real-life suicide forest. A psychological horror film, directed by American writer and director Shan Serafin, Forest tells the story of an American model, Arianna, who becomes a “demonic spirit” after she kills herself in Aokigahara after her boyfriend, Jason, leaves her.
Lasting no more than 30 seconds, the opening sequence consists of Arianna begging in the forest – asking what she can do to prove her love – before a plastic bag is violently pulled over her head. We later learn the hands that are attacking her – are her own. This twisted plotline base and ravishing opening could only lead to a great film…right?
Sadly, the low budget, which has allegedly been reported on IMDB as far greater than the truth, shows itself too often. Yet, it (beneficially) only comes in signs of ADR and bad acting (which includes the character Valerie excessively using the F word). While the title is confusing in that people would expect a zombie film, or at least something close to it, the twists and turns of Forest are actually intriguing. However, it almost proves to be an English speaking Japanese horror film. The gore is mostly absent. Shots of gnarled teeth in plastic bags and morphed shifted faces ala Ringu, are short and effective. Jumps in the timeline are often and puzzling. Michael Madsen’s brief performance is phenomenal and he acts the hell out of the script he is given.
Perhaps, in the end, Forest could have explored the true story of Aokigahara more deeply, and not relied so much on characters standing in open living spaces crying out “What was that?” -while other characters stare at them blankly. (Yes, this type of scenario happened more than once.)
As a Japanese film, with a low budget, Forest of the Living Dead is really quite good. As an American film, it will more than likely leave less seasoned viewers confused and unsatisfied.