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[Review] ‘The Forest’ Wastes its Innovative Premise on Standard Supernatural Slasher Plot

THE FOREST | via Gramercy Pictures
Image via Gramercy Pictures

In the Yamanashi prefecture of Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji, lies a place where dozens of suicides are committed every year: the Aokigahara Forest. Dark, dense, and almost completely absent of wildlife, this fourteen square mile patch of beautifully wooded area has served as a serene final resting place for thousands of people over the span of hundreds of years, making it one of the most well known spots for people who are looking to take their own lives, which explains its alternative name, “The Suicide Forest”.

On a surface level, it’s easy to understand why so many people choose this location above all others to spend their final moments. The lush, budding greenery acts as a canopy for its visitors, almost completely blocking out the sun’s harsh glow, and isolating its inhabitants, all while creating a gorgeous reminder of the beauty and simplicity of nature in all of her glory. However, for hundreds of people to visit this one place in particular, year after year, with even some people flying in from different countries, suggests that there’s more to the explanation than pure aesthetics.

Some people believe that it’s not just that this one particular forest inexplicably houses several suicides every year, but that Japan itself has a seriously high suicide rate. To them, this forest just happens to be located inside of Japan, which is already plagued with several cases of mental illness, and simply has become the most popular location for its residents to engage in this horrific ongoing societal issue.

As with any area in the world facing an alarming suicide rate, of course, the reasons always vary from person to person, but research has helped narrow down the possible causes for the myriad cases of self-destruction. Although mental health is largely to blame for the decision that many Japanese make to take their own lives, there are several factors at work behind this national problem, including unemployment, crippling debt, people losing their loved ones in natural disasters, the lack of support networks across the nation, and the glorification of suicide in Japanese culture.

Whatever each individual’s reason may be for deciding to end his or her life, one thing is absolutely certain: the Japanese do not want to be known for the amount of yearly suicides in the Aokigahara. In an attempt to shy away from their reputation as a country that promotes suicide, police units have gone as far as purposely not publishing as many accounts of those who have died in the forest, and even posting signs at the entrance of the forest, urging its guests to reconsider their decision, and to seek help if they are contemplating death.

This may explain, at least partially, why up until now, there haven’t been very many movies made about the Aokigahara forest. Although hundreds of people visit the forest every year, it has yet to truly become a staple in pop culture, the way that some other spots have become well known for their large amounts of suicide, such as the Eiffel Tower, or the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Forest

Although it may seem offensive to some to create a film encompassing this strange phenomenon, art should never be censored, and in truth, there’s something morbidly fascinating about the thousand year old Sea of Trees. The draw it has on people, the fact that it’s always extremely quiet because the trees are so close-knit and the rough terrain makes it nearly impossible for wildlife to survive, so there are no birds singing overhead or little rabbits running by, creates an eerie dead calm that’s both scientifically interesting and supernaturally intriguing. The choice to make a movie about this plot of land is admittedly, quite brilliant.

It’s a shame that the film itself isn’t quite as enthralling. Following the the story of a girl named Sara, gone to retrieve her unstable sister, Jess, from the clutches of the infamous land while she’s still alive, The Forest is at its best when Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer is playing both twin sisters. As she portrays the level-headed blonde Sara, and the rebellious, angsty brunette Jess, at the same time, in the same room, Dormer convincingly converses with the two sides of herself, back and forth, showing off her skills, and creating a bond that the audience can actually believe could span across entire continents. Sadly, these well acted scenes are few and far between for the talented lead.

The film definitely has its moments. Little jump scares here and there display the creepier side of the forest through the depiction of the yurei, or vengeful spirits, that supposedly wander the Aokigahara grounds, and torment innocent souls who dare enter these dreary quarters alone. Although certain scenes effectively create a swelling sense of terror (such as when Dormer’s character retreats inside her tent, only to have sinister hands grab at her through the cloth), once the audience gets a clear view of the ancient spirits, the distress is dulled, because the heavy coating of CGI effects make the monsters look animated and cartoonish.

Needlessly confusing with little to no character development and barely any conversational dialogue, Sara is a tough character to relate to, despite the hardships she supposedly faced as a child. However, perhaps the worst atrocity committed in this film is the failure to capitalize on the forest as an all-powerful villain.

Instead of focusing on some of the many aspects of this vast forest and all of its dark mystical mythos, it settles for being just another supernatural slasher, with the forest itself set up as nothing more than a pretty backdrop.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that this movie would tackle some of the real-world issues that permeate Japan and lead to so many death every year in these gorgeous woods, but for a film that’s named specifically for its location, this is a story that feels like it could have taken place anywhere. At worst, its yet another tale of an ignorant, unsympathetic American girl assuming she can outsmart thousand year-old folklore, and paying harshly for her arrogance. At best, it’s an innovative premise that’s poorly executed with half-realized ideas and sloppy narration. Either way, The Forest just decent, which is unfortunate, since its subject matter offered up so much unique potential, that it could have made for a truly spectacular feature.



COMMENTS

15 Comments
  • Seal Clubber

    The forest must be bigger than 14 square feet lol ….

    • concerned citizen

      I’ve been scratching my head about that too.

      • killerklownphil

        Lol me too

  • nick

    Was gonna go see this tonight. Might hold off if it’s just generic studio fare.

  • CR

    Seeing as it’s you reviewing this, I will disregard your opinion entirely. Keep giving garbage like The Gallows 4 skulls. “Oh, I’m SO academic.” Ugh.

  • Blade

    I have heard about this forest many times over the past few years, one show on History channel talked about it for a while lol

    Anyway, I am a huge slasher fan and they are my preferred horror, but I was really hoping this movie would be a little something different than that. It seems like a wasted opportunity to turn a movie about this forest into a supernatural slasher film tbh

  • concerned citizen

    Seven paragraphs about the Japanese suicide rate. Film review starts in paragraph eight, for five paragraphs, with the final paragraph of that review bemoaning the fact that the film didn’t encompass your obvious interest in the contents of your first seven paragraphs. An interesting read but not a good review.

  • K-Dogg

    Went to this last night, and found it very poor.

  • Dewey Covington

    I just came back from seeing it. It’s the one thing scary movies should never be — tedious. It can’t decide if it’s a ghost movie or a psychological thriller, and the characters aren’t very well-developed or particularly interesting. Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney did great jobs and deserved better roles. Also, I don’t need explanations for what’s going on jammed down my throat, but this doesn’t really give you much at all. Character motivations, who they really are, why they are that way — you won’t find it here. It’s a huge disappointment. The scares are mostly fake-outs and the whole thing is just a giant missed opportunity.

    • BlingRhames

      I thought the character motivations were clear — at least Dormer’s motivations. And they laid out the rules of the forest a couple of times. Just didn’t seem that confusing unless I’m reading to much into it.

  • ZigZagWave

    Looks terrible.

  • nick

    I saw this last night and was very disappointed. The lead made every mistake I thought Scream made clear not to make – and I’m excusing the fact that she went into The Forest after 20 people told her no to because without that, there would be no movie.

  • diapers

    For moi, a “Standard Supernatural Slasher Plot” can be comforting, like warm cocoa with a shot of rum after sledding, so I’m going to go see it anyway. Not a dig against the reviewer, but she might fare better watching a comprehensive documentary on the Aokigahara with fictional aspects (slasher or otherwise) absent. She seems genuinely interested in the mythos of the forest itself, so adding horror or fictional elements is inviting disappointment.

  • Whit Daphne

    We never actually find out why her sister went into the forest. We never get more than the other characters’ speculations – namely that she was just a wild child who was into dark things. So she went into the Suicide Forest to commune with the darkness or what?

    I also had a lot of trouble buying that her sister was a teacher who had taken her students on a field trip to the forest earlier – which is explicitly explained to not be unusual because it’s a popular tourist area with beautiful scenery & a lot of history – and yet no one cares that she’s missing, immediately presumes her dead and moves on. Are we supposed to believe the Japanese would not care one smidge about a young, healthy teacher who went back to a field trip spot and disappeared? They would really all just ramble on about vengeful ghosts and say it’s a clear-cut case of suicide not worth looking into? To me it smacked of the hand of the director nonsensically bending reality to suit the movie (and insulting the culture they’re using in the process).

    Lastly, and again not to get too spoilery, I just felt cheated with the ending. It was a trick on the character and the audience. That’s all I’ll say – it was a trick.

  • Joseph Benoit

    Don’t waste time on this!!!

    The movie is bad…There is basically no scary moments. When the zombie vengeful spirits jump out you think you’re watching a cartoon, and end up laughing. I was laughing out loud several times when the vengeful spirits showed up. This movie is not scary and the ghosts are “reflections” of the lead character’s inner turmoil….None of those actual ghosts appear for more than an two seconds, and literally all of them on the whole are inside the lead character’s head. This is what makes it stupid, it is CRYSTAL CLEAR to the audience these are hallucinations..Which kind of makes the whole ending feel really stupid and contrived.

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