Aokigahara. The name sends a tingle down the spine of Japanese culture. It is a forest at the northwest bank of Mount Fuji and a popular destination of death (suicidal death to be more accurate). On average, 100 bodies or more per year are recovered from the mysterious woodlands and it remains a cultural phenomenon to this day. Luckily (or unluckily I should say) for us, Jason Zada (The Houses October Built) was slated for his feature directorial debut and I don’t want to be a bitch, but it was basic AF (his best work commercially is actually that “Elf Yourself” thing Office Max or whoever implemented years ago around X-mas where you can superimpose you and your friends’ heads on dancing elfs–I’m not joking, that’s who directed this movie; the developer of Elf Yourself…) I digress…
The Forest (produced by MTV) is a film about a woman named Sara (Natalie Dormer, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, The Tudors) who goes to Aokigahara to find her twin sister, Jess (also played by Dormer) who was last seen entering the forest several days prior. Being twins, they can naturally feel each others’ presence and glimpse into each others’ dreams. That’s exactly how this basic bitch-fest begins. Sara has a bad first-person POV dream running through a forest screaming. She wakes up, expresses her concern to her husband (whose role is completely extraneous and unnecessary) and flies to Japan after a police officer calls and tells her of her twin’s whereabouts. Once there she meets Aiden (Taylor Kinney, Zero Dark Thirty), a journalist for an Australian company and conveniently based in Japan as the only other white person in the bar. Naturally he wants to tell her story so the two set off into the forest with a local guide. (This is literally where the film should have started. We didn’t need the 20 minutes of exposition to explain to us why she’s there. It drags the movie out and is so poorly written and directed that my film teachers in college would probably use it as a prime example of “show not tell”). Once within the imminent domain of death, Sara begins to lose her grip on reality as things around her become uncertain and frightening. This is where the movie starts feeling like someone kinda knows what they’re doing.
Basically, the whole beginning of the movie is so fucking pointless it is a slap in the face of horror enthusiasts. They spell everything out, it’s shot in the most basic camera angles, and just feels hollow and lifeless. Almost as if the director’s background is mainly commercial work (oh wait, it is…). The movie starts becoming interesting upon entering the forest. They go to a tourist shop where a creepy worker repeatedly insists they “stay on the path” which they immediately ignore because #twinning. When night starts to fall the guide is adamant about returning when it’s daylight to continue their search but stupid Sara refuses and opts to camp out in case Jess shows up and naturally Aiden agrees to stay as well. Now that it’s just two white people, they are then bombarded with spectral encounters that deceive and encourage self mutilation and torture, both mental and physical (the forest convinces people of certain things that leads to their deaths which are deemed suicides due to their nature; i.e. slit wrists, hangings, starvation, etc.). It’s a nice change of pace and has some generally creepy scenes. *SPOILERS BE NEAR* At one point, Sara is convinced that Aiden knew her sister before her arrival and starts becoming paranoid thinking he has her locked up in a cabin. *SPOILERS BE DONE*
Although the movie becomes relatively viewable after they finally get to the forest, it doesn’t stray far from the basic bitch path. As I mentioned earlier, the cinematography and editing is crap. It’s so traditionally narrative in structure it’s painful. Wide shot , medium, close up, repeat. In a film about a supernatural forest that forces it’s inhabitants to commit atrocious bodily crimes against themselves, one would think the filmmakers would try and confuse the audience just a little and utilize some unique and unsettling angles and camera movements (which they attempt but to no avail). The only saving grace to this polished piece of turd besides Dormer’s innate excellence and beauty is the “twist” ending (which unfortunately I called halfway through the movie). Even though it is highly foreseen, it pushes the film in the direction it should have been going the whole time.
This movie has been widely criticized for a lot of things. From white-washing to sensationalization, The Forest has been the latest example of the perennial view of Hollywood and white America. The fact that an entire development team with a $10million budget all decided “hey let’s do a movie about a real Japanese thing but fuck them let’s get Anne Boleyn and some other white dude to star” is blatantly insulting to all the Asian actors not only in the United States but world wide. Granted, we all have lady boners for Natalie Dormer and she’s probably the only reason I even watched the film in the first place but would it have killed them to at least let the guide have a major role instead of two Vanilla muffins? Cultural theft and glorification aside, I figured I would give it a shot because critics and audiences are always way harsh on the horror genre and again #NatalieDormer. I was wrong. They were right. This movie is a giant steaming pile of $10million shit. It really had the potential to be something trippy and unnerving and confusing but instead it reverted back to high school grade story telling and flaunts it’s masters degree in being basic AF.
IMDB: 4.8/10 (21,349 votes)
Rotten Tomatoes: 🍅10% 🍿23%
DEAD🐶PUPPY: 2 basic bitches running through the forest/5