2016.91: The Forest (Amazon VOD)
This is a strange one. It could have been quite good, and is quite competently shot and directed, with a reasonable cast, but somehow it just doesn’t hold together. I think the frankly preposterous plot is the chief culprit. And yet I’m led to believe (or am I just earnestly gullible?) that the Japanese forest and its infamy for being a place for suicides is quite real. So maybe its the execution, rather than the plot, that is to blame. I don’t know. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a horror film at all, but rather a human drama about tortured souls drawn to a frankly strange place notorious for human tragedy.
So anyway, for what its worth, here’s how you turn a Japanese area of cultural infamy into a mainstream Western horror movie: Sara (Natalie Dormer) senses her twin sister Jess, who lives half-way across the world in Japan, is in trouble, and soon learns from the police there that Jess has gone missing. Investigations reveal that Jess was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest alone, a place where people often go to commit suicide. Sara is confident that Jess is still alive (“I sense it!” she confidently states in full-on Jedi mode) and promptly drops everything in America (Including her hubby) and flies off to Japan to do the job that the Japanese police refuse to do (i.e. go have a look in the scary forest).
And that’s about it. Natalie Dormer isn’t a bad actress, and can command some charisma and character in her roles, but her character is pretty one-note throughout and she struggles to make anything of her (actually two-character as Sara/Jess) role here. It might have helped if the story had been chronological (we had seen the sisters growing up together and Jess eventually leaving for Japan) but instead all that sister stuff is told in flashbacks as Sara’s own Journey into (Emerald) Darkness ensues. Its okay I guess, but as its a horror film any real drama is put to one side for frequent jump-shots/scares with noisy stingers on the soundtrack. Its a little unsettling but rather more irritating.
Somewhere in here there’s a story of two twins sharing a childhood tragedy that has scarred one of them in particular, and who is a definite suicide risk in possibly the worst place for such a person to be. Does it have to be stuck in a horror b-movie like this? Of course not. There’s a dramatic, emotional core to this film that is just tossed away in favour of having creepy demons terrorising some woods. By the time the film ends, yes, there is a bit of a twist but you hardly care. Pretty poor stuff really.