'The Forest' (2016)

The Forest movie poster
© Gramercy

Synopsis: An American woman travels to a haunted forest in Japan that's notorious for suicides in search of her missing twin sister.

Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken

Director: Jason Zada

Studio: Gramercy Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 95 minutes

Release Date: January 8, 2016

The Forest Movie Trailer

The Forest Movie Review

With its reputation as a popular place for people to kill themselves (earning the nickname "Suicide Forest"), Japan's Aokigahara forest is a natural locale for a horror movie -- indeed, genre films Grave Halloween and Forest of the Living Dead have used it as a setting -- but as The Forest shows, a setting alone does not make an effective fright film.

The Plot

When Sara (Natalie Dormer) finds out that her twin sister Jess, who teaches English to kids in Japan, has disappeared while on a field trip to Aokigahara forest -- a notorious location for suicides -- her twin "Spidey sense" tells her that Jess, despite a history of suicide attempts, is in fact alive. She jets over to Japan, searching for someone who can take her through "Suicide Forest," and finds a sympathetic ear in American journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney), who specializes in stories on Japanese culture.

Aiden finds a guide who takes them into the woods, warning them that the locale is haunted by spirits that play mind games with people who venture off the path. Against the guide's advice, Sara and Aiden decide to spend the night in the forest when they can't find Jess on the first day of searching. You don't have to be a horror expert to guess what happens next.

The End Result

The Forest illustrates the problem when you try to build a movie around the slimmest of concepts -- in this case, a real-life location, a common hook for horror films. To its credit, the plot isn't as thin as some movies of its ilk; there is some attempt at emotional resonance over the sisterly bond and a shared childhood trauma.

But this is a horror movie, so emotions take hold only when the horror aspect works, and on that level, The Forest comes up short. The generic ghosts are nowhere near as striking as the most famous cinematic yurei (Japanese spirits) in the Ringu and movies, and only a couple of cheap jump scares elicit any visceral reaction. An insultingly dumb and feckless final attempt at a scare in the final frame only serves to leave a worse taste in the audience's mouths.

Just as damning is the frustrating ease with which heroine Sara falls prey to the forest. She's told in no uncertain terms not to stray and that if she sees anything unusual, it's not real, and yet upon her first night in the woods, she almost immediately ventures away from Aiden and the relative safety of her campsite in order to investigate a sound in the woods. More lemming than human, she falls for one ghostly trap after another, and even when she reminds herself what she's seeing isn't real, she can't stop herself from acting as if it is. Sara might be the victim on screen, but viewers forced to sit through her stupidity are the real victims in The Forest.

The Skinny

  • Acting: C (Solid, albeit a bit hammy; typical genre stuff.)
  • Direction: C (Struggles to generate genuine scares.)
  • Script: D+ (Dim-witted characters making dumb decisions.)
  • Gore/Effects: C- (Modest gore; mediocre ghost design and CGI effects.)
  • Overall: C- (A competent but bland and predictable ghost story with frustratingly dim characters.)