Title: The Forest
Director: Jason Zada
Major Players: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney
Out Of Five: 2
I’m not a great one for horror films. The last one I saw was The Woman In Black:Angel Of Death and that made me laugh, not jump. So The Forest was my first chiller in over a year. And it reminded me why.
Twin Sara (Natalie Dormer) learns her sister Jess has gone missing in a Japanese forest, one where people go to commit suicide. Convinced that Jess is still alive, she travels to Japan to find her. Meeting up with journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney), she piggy backs on his guided tour of the forest with an expert in the hope of finding her sister. What they do find is her tent and belongings, but there’s no sign of her. Ignoring the guide’s advice to turn back, Sara decides to stay in case Jess returns and Aiden keeps her company. And the nocturnal forest isn’t exactly the place for a good night’s sleep.
All of which might sound rather familiar, and that’s because the real Aokigahara forest, near Mount Fuji, has inspired other movies, most recently Gus Van Sant’s The Sea Of Trees. It’s all but faded from sight after a screening at last year’s Cannes, which isn’t the greatest of omens for The Forest, even if the stories associated with Aokigahara – its association with demons in Japanese mythology and its reputation for suicide – make it sound something close to a film maker’s dream.
In fact, the forest itself and the Japanese setting raised my hopes for something interesting, with Sara stranded in a seemingly alien culture, with its different language, history and attitudes. Yet, apart from a couple of scenes that were overtly Japanese, it was played down to the point of being non-existent. Such a wasted opportunity. Instead it’s one of those horror films littered with supernatural figures designed to make you jump, rather than be consistently scary. But, as usual, you can tell when the film is gearing up to give you a jolt, which lessens the impact. There was one solitary moment that genuinely made me jump and, even then, my skin was still intact.
Those ghastly and ghostly figures in the forest that follow Sara around don’t do their job either. They lurk in the shadowy background so much that we soon get used to them. Only the ending comes as something of a surprise – but I won’t give it away. The rest of the forest is rather beautiful, although director Jason Zada does try to make it look sinister, although just how a snail emerging from its shell is threatening I’m not quite sure.
Poor Natalie Dormer gets increasingly scared as the film unfolds, but she doesn’t have much to do other than get panicky, run around the forest a lot and keep shouting her sister’s name. It’s really not much of a role and nor is Taylor Kinney’s journalist, who may or may not have suspicious motives.
I couldn’t escape the feeling that this had all been done before and done a whole lot better. Not that I would have seen it, of course, but horror fans will get a distinct sense of déjà vu.
The Forest is released in cinemas on Friday, 26 February and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 25 February.