At the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan, lies the Aokigahara forest. With its large rocky ice caverns, it is a popular tourist destination. With its densely packed trees and vegetation, all visitors are warned to stay on the trails or get lost. In Japanese mythology, the forest is populated with angry ghosts called Yūrei. For decades now, it has also been a popular site for suicides. Despondent men and women wander into the forest, hang themselves, overdose, or sometimes intentionally get lost and starve to death.
That’s a terrific set-up for a great horror movie. Unfortunately The Forest isn’t it.
The first rule of horror movies is that they need to be scary. The second rule is they should at least be interesting. Boring is the arch enemy of the genre. The Forest is lifeless, dull, and completely boring.
Natalie Dormer plays Sara Price a young, put-together American woman who receives news that her troubled twin sister, Jess (also Dormer), has wandered into the Aokigahara forest and has not been seen since. Using her special twin powers, Sara knows for sure that Jess isn’t dead, but is in deep trouble. She flies to Japan, meets up with travel writer Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) the travel guide and into the forest they go.
There they see several corpses of suicides, possible ghosts, and spend most of the movie experiencing general creepiness. Pretty soon Michi splits, Aiden looks suspicious, and Sarah might be going crazy. The sister is found and the inevitable twist ending occurs.
I wish I could say there was more to it than that, but no, there really isn’t. It's the kind of movie where Sara continually announces that she’s a twin because the audience just wouldn’t get it even though the same actress is playing the parts. Or where she wanders around Japan showing off her sister's picture even though she could just point at her face and say “she looks like me.”
It's the kind of film that recognizes all the horror tropes and yet plays them out just the same with zero inventiveness. There are lots of random jump scares, plenty of moody set pieces, and a half-assed attempt at some psychological horror.
Dormer is a talented actress but she’s given so little to do here that you hardly notice her (and she’s the star! She’s in every scene!). First-time film director Jason Zada and cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup do create some wonderful images. They like to zoom close on the dense foliage, filled with creepy, crawly creatures and there are lots of long shots flying above the forest, showing just how large and unforgiving it is. It's really quite lovely to look at, it's just that there isn’t any story to go along with it.
The Forest comes with a beautiful 1080p transfer. Shot on digital cameras, it looks quite spectacular. Colors are rich and deep, details are near perfect, and the denseness of the forest really comes to life. Likewise, the audio presentation is good. From the busy streets of Tokyo to the creepy sounds of the forest, there is a lot going on in the background and it all comes through quite crisp and clear. The musical score is robust, and all the dialogue was easy to understand.
Extras include an entertaining and informative commentary from the director, several picture galleries including behind-the-scenes shots, storyboards, and concept art. There is a short, eight-minute feature where the director discusses several aspects of making the film.
The Aokigahara Forest is the perfect setting for a great horror film. Though it looks really good, The Forest never finds a story creepy enough to tell.
Currently available on Digital HD, The Forest comes out on Blu-ray and DVD on April 12