Aokigahara, the vast green sea of trees that surrounds the northwest base of Mount Fuji is, at the very least, a location ripe with cinematic possibilities. Dubbed the suicide forest, Aokigahara is Japan’s most popular spot for ending one’s life and is tragically the site of some 100 suicides per year. Oh yeah, the movie didn’t make that up, it’s a real place where sad people go to die, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of it. In fact, a few years ago, I saw a twenty minute doc on VICE (click here to see it) about the infamous suicide forest, and I remember thinking what a fascinating place it was and what a kickass location for a horror film it would make.
Of course, it’s no surprise that someone thought to set a horror movie in those dreaded woods, and I’m not gonna lie, the concept of a woman gone searching for her lost sibling in a place synonymous with death and brimming with legends of demons sounds SO very good on paper, so I couldn’t help but be intrigued early on. Unfortunately, The Forest, the first full length feature by director Jason Zada, takes a road too well travelled and settles for cheap scares and a jumbled storyline, ultimately falling flat despite a sea of possibilities and some genuine talent being involved.
In an unexpected, but interesting bit of casting, Natalie Dormer (OMG it’s Margaery Tyrell, not being a huge bitch for once) is cast in a dual role here as twins Sara and Jess Price, and she gets a chance to show off both her (pretty darn good) American accent and the acting chops that make her so riveting to watch on Game of Thrones. As Sara, Dormer sprints headlong into the haunted woods in search of Jess, who may or may not be alive, and this despite every single local she encounters (and I do mean EVERY one) insisting that there ARE indeed angry spirits in the forest and they WILL certainly make her do horrible things to herself, Sara remains unphased, even when she begins experiencing strange occurrences (roughly 45 seconds after stepping foot into Aokigahara). Attacking the part with gusto, Dormer works hard and gives the role her all, but the script is much weaker material than this first rate actress is used to tackling…let’s face it, all the talent in the world can only carry a messy script so far.
Even worse, try as it might, The Forest is inexcusably dull most of the time and overflowing with multiple storylines and plot holes big enough for Dormer to fall through and break her ankle…which incidentally she does do at one point, screaming like Joffrey just shot her ass with an arrow (okay, I couldn’t help that). Also, despite all the running and falling and screaming for help, Dormer and co-star Taylor Kinney (who plays Sara’s guide into Aokigahara and is unbelievably pretty, but otherwise useless in his role) remain esthetically perfect…and I HATE that. This chick spends two days trudging through the woods, running from all manner of ghosts, stiff breezes and Japanese schoolgirls, and her hair is barely out of place by the end (seriously, I fuck my hair up more while watching tv) and neither her nor Kinney have so much as a pit stain between them, which begs the question, do pretty people even sweat in this universe?
I know, I know, it’s hardly the end of the world, but it is distracting and more than a little irritating (seriously, bitch looks perfect the whole damn time).
As far as ghost stories go, The Forest isn’t really a terrible one, but it’s sloppily trying to tell several tales at once and not doing a good job of it and because of this, what little tension does manage to build up quickly gets lost in the fray. It sucks, cause there was some definite potential here, including one or two effective jump scares, but they were few and far between and gone too quickly to have any real impact on the overall feel of the film.
I hate to admit that I was more than a little bored during The Forest (I might have even played with my phone a wee bit), and now, as I type this, I’m struggling to remember the details of the movie and find that I’m not quite able to. It’s never a good sign when a movie doesn’t stick, and this one, despite the giant, living soul of Aokigahara looming over it was as forgettable as they come.