The Forest is a bland ghost story that feels like what you would get if you crossed The Grudge remake and The Blair Witch Project - but worse than that combination should make.
Aokigahara is a real forest, one with significant cultural value and mythology behind it. None of that matters to this movie. We skip over most of that so that we can rush into it and get "scared" by the various ghosts, whom we're explicitly told are not real, but are supposed to be afraid of anyway. Why? Because Sara screams and runs away, and because the film she's in gets real quiet before a loud sound and a sharp camera movement reveals something - anything - and, therefore, it's scary.
Near the end, there are twists and revelations that may or may not surprise you, but they don't amount to anything because of the lack of depth to these characters. Almost everything Sara exposits is about her sister, meaning we get to know little about her. Aiden isn't any better; he gets the bonus of the film, at times, trying to paint him as a villain and a liar, so we don't even know what he tells us is the truth. The final ten minutes or so are also so clumsily handled that they take you right out of the experience.
There are a few decent aspects to The Forest, and they should be highlighted. Whenever the film follows through on its premise - a forest whose hallucinations will trick people into killing themselves - it's interesting. That only happens twice, though. Natalie Dormer makes for a sympathetic enough scream queen but doesn't get to do much beyond running and screaming. Mattias Troelstrup cinematography is better than your average horror film, and the score - when not setting up for a jump startle - is good. None of these are enough to save the film, but at least you can tell there was an effort in these areas.
Do you know what else might've made The Forest work? There are hints at a repression and depression in Sara's mind, and if the film wanted to explore those - using the spirits as a visual metaphor to overcome - it might've felt like the film was about something. At times, it looked as if The Forest wanted to take that path, but it cops out. Director Jason Zada is making his feature-film directorial debut here, and one has to wonder if that general inexperience kept him from taking that sort of leap into more interesting territory. Or maybe it was the fault of the three(!) screenwriters? Regardless, a potentially interesting premise was turned into a generic film.
The Forest is a bland ghost story that feels like what you would get if you crossed The Grudge remake and The Blair Witch Project - but worse than that combination should make. An American goes to Japan in search of someone in a forest, and then jump startles happen for the rest of the film. This one had the potential to be more interesting, but for one reason or another, decided to take the safe, mechanical, and generic route. Natalie Dormer is fine, the cinematography is above-average, and the score is lovely. Those things are all the film has going for it, and they're not enough to even come close to making it worthwhile.
Bottom Line: It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that The Forest isn't a good movie. The surprise comes from a surprisingly decent premise that just wasn't explored anywhere close to as well as it could have been to succeed.
Recommendation: If you have a thing for jump startles, have at it. If they grow tiresome quickly for you, skip it.
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