Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, The Tudors) stars in the supernatural thriller The Forest. The film is an old-school jump-scare movie that substitutes a haunted house for a creepy forest in Japan. The only problem with this conceit is that the spooky forest featured in the film, Japan's Aokigahara Forest, at the foot of Mount Fuji, is a real place, with a real and poignant modern history of being a site where people choose to go to die. The Forest quickly presents this fact and then...does not much with it, proceeding with its fairly traditional ghost story.
Some viewers may find the lack of compassion to the actual location a bit jarring. Those interested in the real, human story behind the Aokigahara Forest, can check out the documentary, Aokigahara Suicide Forest, which served as an inspiraton to the director of this film, Jason Zada. He became fascinated with the true story of the Aokigahara forest and visited the site prior to filming. The Japanese government does not permit filming in the actual forest, so the production instead took place near Tara Mountain, in Serbia.
In The Forest Natalie Dormer plays twins - a horror flick standard for creepy possibilities - Sara and Jess. One, Sara, is light-haired and "good," the other, Jess, dark-haired and "bad." Jess has gone missing in Japan and Sara feels, she knows, that her twin is alive. Because, super-twin connective ability. That I'll accept. But unfortunately, like most damsels-in-distress in horror movies, Sara is not too intuitive or bright when faced with the repetive advice to stay out of an evil forest at night. Oh well.
Not only is the premise of the film a bit old school, but there is also a culture clash set-up - strange and exotic food, mysterious Asian ghosts, creepy school girls - that may have viewers wondering what year this is and why we are watching this white girl's fish-out-of-water reactions. Dormer does the best she can with the material, and her portrayal of both sisters, although we don't get to see as much of Jess as we might have. In some shots, Dormer is reminiscent of Hollywood actress Gloria Graham, who excelled at playing fatal and fateful women.
Aokigahara in Japanese means "sea of trees." The filmmakers manage to use the natural surroundings of a forest to claustrophobic and creepy effect, whether they are filming strange looking mushrooms or bodies dangling from trees. When Sara crosses the railroad tracks and heads towards the woods, we really do feel that she is crossing into another realm. This is aided by the clean, colorful cinematography and suitably creepy music.