The major problem with The Forest, the directorial debut from Jason Zada, does not lie within the acting. Several reviews I've read have stated that the acting from lead Natalie Dormer wasn't up to par with her usual material. I highly disagree with this and believe that both her and Taylor Kinney did an exemplary job with the material that they were given and their ability to bring it to life.
The problem lies within the plot build-up throughout the entire film, and the dead-on-arrival delivery of the conclusion within the last five minutes. This entire film would have been a memorable horror film had it not been for the shoddy ending, and it pains me to say that.
The Forest is the first wide-release horror film of the year, and while there are a couple of terrifying moments (particularly one scene in an underground cave that still gives the chills every single time I think back to it), the overall production doesn't deliver due to an unsatisfactory conclusion.
Dormer plays Sara Price, a young woman living in America who receives a call that her twin sister, Jess, has disappeared from her teaching job in Japan after venturing into the Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji. The forest is a place where most go when they wish to commit suicide. Jess has dealt with anxiety and depression throughout her entire life, since seeing her and Sara's parents dead bodies at the scene of a car crash. Two days pass, and the team at the mountain decides to call of the search. Sara's twin intuition tells her that Jess is still alive. Without hesitation, she's on the next plane to Japan. (Note: the Aokigahara forest IS real, and people really DO go there to commit suicide. It's horrifying premise, and it's actually very creepy to think about the reality of this setting.)
Before venturing into the forest itself, Sara encounters a travel writer named Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who agrees to allows her to come along on a walk through the forest with him and another tour guide, on the condition that he can write about her for his magazine (he explains how 'human' he believes her search for her sister is).
Sara is warned countless times, again and again, the different things not to do when going into the forest. Don't leave the path. Beware of the yurei (evil spirits that play off of the sadness and despair of those in the forest, conjuring horrible images in peoples' minds). And of course, don't go into the forest, period. When asked why, she is told it's because she is filled with sadness. The yurei feed off sadness.
As I said before, there is a whole lot of build up in the movie. Several jump scenes occur, some are creepy, some are not so creepy and make you go "geez, I really jumped at that?" There are several issues in the film that are addressed and then never brought up again (if you've seen the movie, think back to the scene in the cabin towards the end). It slightly makes sense, but the fact that you have to think really hard about it in order to understand it isn't exactly the most satisfying element of the movie-going experience. I understand where Zada is coming from though; it's a film that dances with the theme of facing demons and the unknown, but it sadly fails to tie it all together in the end.
The scene in the underground cave is, however, one of the scariest scenes I've seen in years in any kind of horror film. It's so minimalistic in terms of the lighting, set up, and execution. People may debate me on this, but I stand by it. Rina Takasaki (who plays Hoshiko) steals the scene and is utterly terrifying. I'll say no more than that.
The Forest is playing in theaters now. For ticket information and showtimes, visit www.fandango.com
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