The Forest and all the images you see in this review are owned by Gramercy Pictures and Icon Film Distribution
Directed by Jason Zada
No point in putting it off any longer! It’s time to watch a January movie. Not an Oscar film that didn’t deign to show itself to the public until after the new year such as The Revenant or The Hateful Eight. Nope. One of this REALLY terrible movies that comes out during the worst month of the year because it couldn’t hack it against the movies that come out any other time of the year. The month that brought us The Devil’s Due, Blackhat, and Texas Chainsaw 3D is now bring forth one of its 2016 sacrificial lambs in the form of The Forest. Yeah… this movie doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, especially considering it’s set in Japan yet manages to still have a mostly white case. It still COULD be a surprise gem, right? Probably not, but let’s find out!!
The movie follows Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) as she goes to Japan to find her sister who has recently disappeared in the Aokigahara Forest. If you’re not aware, the forest is at the base of Mount Fuji and is famous for being a place that people go to commit suicide. The details are a bit unclear, but it sounds like Sara’s sister Jess (also played by Natalie Dormer) became a teacher when she got to Japan despite being portrayed as unreliable and struggling with demons of some sort and she got lost on a field trip to Mount Fuji. The police aren’t gonna do shit to find her because they assume she’s dead already, so Sara finds another white person in Japan named Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who knows someone that patrols the forest looking for people and corpses. So Sara, Aiden, and the park guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) head into the forest to find her and anyone else who hasn’t offed themselves yet. Now this is where things get a bit confusing because Sara starts seeing visions and ghosts, but as far as I can tell she’s the ONLY person here who’s being affected by these spirits. It seems like everyone else who comes in here just kills themselves with ghostly intervention, but I guess they were all waiting for the blonde lady to show up. Will she be able to find her sister despite all the creepy shenanigans happening around her? Does Aiden have a dark past that could possibly put everyone in danger? What the fuck was Michi thinking taking these untrained dumb asses into the forest with him!?
WOW was this movie obnoxiously lame. There wasn’t a single aspect of this that I would rate as competent, and yet it isn’t bad enough in interesting ways to at least make this a watchable bad horror movie. It’s dulls-ville from start to end, it doesn’t take advantage of it’s setting in the least, and the movie runs off of dream logic which is too often used as an excuse to not write a decent or cohesive story. As bad as something like Silent Hill Revelation was, at least it had a vision. This can’t even strive for mediocrity.
Where to even begin with what’s wrong with this flavorless and tepid so called scary movie? How about we start with how absolutely useless the Japanese setting is to the movie and how uncomfortable the movie portrays the entire fucking country? Here’s an example of everything wrong with the way Japan is depicted in the movie. There’s a scene very early one where Sara has just gotten to Japan and goes out to eat. She finds a Sushi restaurant and is aghast that it’s raw fish, so we cut to her back in her hotel room eating mini-bar peanuts. Did you catch all the dumb shit I just described? It’s trying to make Japan seem weird and othering (which I get trying to do in a horror film), but does it so poorly that we can only assume the character (as well as the film makers) were too damn stupid to notice that any given Sushi Bar is gonna be flanked on both sides by a McDonald’s, a KFC, or probably even a Taco Bell. SHE’S IN TOKYO FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! She’s not in the fucking boonies; she’s in one of the most metropolitan and diverse locations in the ENTIRE country, and yet she can’t find any food that she doesn’t find weird? The movie pulls these weak ass gimmicks constantly, to the point that schools and hotels do not seem to have light bulbs despite Japan being a fucking first world country.
One part that REALLY got under my skin is that there’s a visitor center near the forest doubles as a damn morgue with no actual equipment other than slabs and blankets. Now I might end up eating crow about that last part, but it seems pretty unlikely that they’d have a tourist information building for the forest double as a god damn mortuary especially when no one there appears to be a pathology technician, and the facility consists of a hole in the basement where the bodies seem to left on metal tables for months on end.
When the movie DOES decide to finally get into the damn forest, the Japanese setting just falls to the wayside as the movie takes no advantage of the long history of Japanese ghost and demon iconography and instead has dead bodies with bags over their heads and lame zombie face monsters every once in a while. Where the hell are the Rokurokubi whose necks can stretch? Where are the Harionago with thorns at the end of each strand of hair? The movie name drops Yūrei, but then their interpretation of it is completely underwhelming as any ghost we see is just a person standing there who will occasionally disappear between cuts (or will spontaneously have a stupid demon face).
On top of its crass and shallow interpretation of Japan and Japanese culture (I may be far from an expert in that field, but I can still tell this movie is bullshit), it really has no fucking business being about the Aokigahara forest that it is named after. The movie has no interest in talking about suicide or what effects it has on their loved ones. No interest in the mentality or fragile state that can convince one that ending their life is the best option. Instead, the movie wants to use this as mere window dressing for one of the lousiest ghost movies I can possibly imagine being made. Hell, the suicide aspect of this forest doesn’t really gel all that well with the ghost story anyway, since none of the bodies they find seem to have been attacked by ghosts or anything like that.
Even if you ignore the meat headed approach to Japanese culture and the borderline insensitive use of an actual location with a long history of tragedy, all you’re left with is an unbearable slog with two really uninteresting protagonists. Well three protagonists I guess, but the token Japanese guy (in a movie set in JAPAN) doesn’t have nearly as much screen time as the two white leads who are alternatively dull as dishwater and raging assholes whenever the plot requires them to be to move the damn story along. Look, movies where reality is being bent are hard to pull off, but that doesn’t mean that we should give slack to movies that fail spectacularly at it. At no point do you as audience member buy that any of the creatures and horrors she’s seeing are real, and it seems pretty clear that they pose no actual danger to her. Seriously, not a single thing the ghosts do here causes any physical harm to her unless you count scaring her into running through a forest and tripping over things (or falling down things). This means that as you watch her react so strongly to the ghosts’ presence and fall so easily for their tricks, you just sit there wondering why she’s acting like such an idiot. Even within the film world’s logic, you can come to some very basic conclusions. There is one ghost tells her not to trust the dude. You know what? Fine. The dude is a liar (not a big one, but still lying about things) and the ghost took the form of a scared teenage girl. If we’re going for a Crimson Peak scenario where the ghosts are actually really ineffective bearers of bad news, then that would be fine. That’s not the case though because that particular ghost comes back later, straight up lies to her, and then does a lame scare.
Sitting there, I was thinking that now she will realize she is being fooled and trust the guy once again. I won’t spoil it, but she certainly does not trust him and it’s baffling just how dumb they have to make her to get this stupid fucking plot moving! The guy’s not perfect either because he will fly into a rage for no reason other than to give Sara a reason to be suspicious for a moment.
So what we have is a movie devoid of scares or consistency that wastes its premise and shits on the culture and history that it so brazenly uses for the lowest of no effort horror fare. Is there ANYTHING good here? Eh… Japan is always cool to look in movies and while I’m PRETTY sure that most of the forest scenes were not actually shot in Aokigahara (the credits listed a lot of locations in Serbia), the scenes that DO take place in Japan early on are nicely shot if you can ignore the xenophobia. On top of that, some of the Japanese performers give some decent performances with the creepy school girl ghost making the most of her brief appearances, and the guide who’s taking the two through the forest that manages to get through this as somewhat likable.
After watching this movie, I did some research on the Aokigahara forest. I ended up finding this video that Vice made about the forest where they followed a geologist (Azusa Hayano) who frequently patrols the area looking for those who have traveled to the forest as well as the bodies of those who have already finished what they set out to do. Not only is this video better than the damn movie, but watching it I became convinced that it was THIS video specifically (released in 2011) that inspired the movie. There are a lot of coincidental details like the one person who goes through the forest looking for bodies, the ways he describes what people bring (tents if they’re not sure yet and ribbons tied to trees to either guide them back out or to lead others to their bodies) and even the encounter with someone who’s staying in the forest is eerily reminiscent of what I was seeing in this Vice video. Whether or not I’m right about the origins of this movie, it’s clear that no one making this movie had all that much reverence or respect for what it was they had on their hands. This entire movie is a cheap and passionless cash grab that ends up being somewhat offensive because of what they thought would be a noteworthy gimmick. Well it certainly is noteworthy if for no other reason than because of how bone headed it is, but take that away and this movie is just a boring time sink. Nothing interesting, nothing scary, and nothing worth your time.
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