Review: The Forest (2016)

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Dir. by: Jason Zada
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt

I think that most horror fans have a favorite sub-genre. One of mine is Japanese Horror, or J-Horror. I love creepy schoolgirls that just pop out of the shadows, ghosts that kill people with their hair and the overall physiological shocks that these movies bring. I was excited when I thought that The Forest would be able to have many of those qualities. I was also worried, like many other people, that the movie would be disrespectful of the Aokigahara Forest.

The Aokigahara Forest plays a large part in the movie. It is the setting for the majority of it. The forest could also be argued to be the antagonist. Now, why would a horror movie center around a forest in Japan that is also a popular tourist attraction? Partially because it’s very dense and without much wildlife. This gives it an eerie quiet. The other reason is because it’s a popular site for people to commit suicide and is supposedly haunted by angry spirits of the deceased.

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Thus brings about the plot of The Forest. Sara Prince (Dormer), an American, receives a phone call explaining that her twin sister, Jess (also Dormer), might be dead. Jess was last seen going into the Aokigahara Forest. Her sister has always been troubled, so Sara travels to Japan for answers. When she ends up with more questions than answers, she decides to go look for Jess in the forest itself.

The movie is good. The Forest is not great, but also not as bad as I thought it might be. I still have some complex feelings about the story, though.

I loved the hints of J-Horror; the darkness of it. The scenes in the older buildings made me think of other movies I love. It put me on edge. Trust me when I tell you I wanted those ghosts. I wanted the twists that come with them. Every time Sara talked to someone outside of the forest, I kept wondering, “Is this person really alive? Are they being interacted with by anyone else?”

I still feel torn because The Forest does have a white person just charging into a place and a culture that they don’t entirely understand. I don’t think that The Forest was disrespectful of the Aokigahara Forest, but the movie is also clearly from an outsider’s perspective. I think that made it lose some of the scares that could have be there. Instead of being properly afraid, Sara just stomps along expecting everyone to fall in line. I hate to admit that I always love when characters like that get tormented.

Please understand that I did like Sara. I understood her abrasiveness. I appreciated her need to get things done to save her sister. As I learned her backstory, her actions also made more sense. I just wish that the main character would have had a better understanding of the lore of the Aokigahara Forest. Having American Sara, who researches so little beforehand, also gives us less to be afraid of from the start because we have so little information about the Aokigahara Forest and its possible ghosts.

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Why are people going to commit suicide there? What possible energy could be stuck there? What emotions still fill the space? All of this kind of information could have been given to Sara before she went and the audience could have had more to jump at. As an American myself, I want to know all about it. Give me the history. Every theory. Let it fill my brain up with possibilities. Instead, we are rushed through. I suppose that was supposed to make it mysterious and more scary – fear of the unknown and all that – but I think it did quite the opposite.

I think Jess knows. I think Jess knows the lore and the history. I think she goes into the forest with respect on the trip and with the intention of acting upon her knowledge. It is one of the differences between the sisters. Sara is so fast paced and sure. Jess is not. The audience also only sees Jess through Sara’s eyes. We see Japan and the Aokigahara Forest through Sara’s perspective. I honestly think it would have been more interesting through Jess. Her knowledge and immersion in the culture would have made the film so much richer. We get so little of an appreciation for the culture surrounding the main setting of the film.

Overall though, I did like the film. I liked the characters. I was concerned and unsure when I should be. The settings lent to the story. Some of the effects were unnecessary. I was a little disappointed with the end, but it has left with me with a few theories.

My rating stands at: Good.

Watch the trailer here:

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