Weekly Review: The Forest (2016)

After receiving a call that her sister has ventured into the suicide forest alone, Sara travels to Japan to bring her sister home.

When I first heard about The Forest, I was pretty shocked. The movie is set in Aokigahara, a real forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, a real place with a history as dense as the sea of trees that make it up. I felt that making a movie about Aokigahara, especially a movie like this, was in poor taste.

In case you have never heard of The Forest before, it’s a horror film starring Natalie Dormer, known for her roles on Game of Thrones, The Tudors, and in The Hunger Games. The plot in simple terms surrounds an American woman who finds herself thrown into a culture that she doesn’t understand.

The beginning of the movie has a variety of scenes that set up Japan as this weird, different culture. The thought of there being a forest where people go to commit suicide is preposterous to her. She stares at the people on the street like they’re alien, and they stare back at her in a similar way. When she visits a restaurant, she is aghast to be handed a plate with seafood that is still moving.

When it comes to the forest itself, the movie has several locals telling her stories about it. “It’s dangerous,” the locals say, “Don’t leave the path.” They set up the forest as if it’s a haunted tourist attraction. They describe to her the angry yurei that inhabit the forest, and she brushes off their stories and culture as if they were the words of a child. It’s a typical reaction in movies of this genre.

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My understanding of Aokigahara has always been that it’s not a scary place. It’s a sad place. It’s a place where people go to contemplate ending their lives when they feel they have no other choice. It has a history of death, and with that history comes the idea of lost souls that inhabit it. For American audiences, this translates as a scary, haunted forest with ghosts around every corner. This doesn’t bode well with me, considering the cultural context.

Cultural insensitivity aside, The Forest is an average scary movie. There are some atmospheric moments that could get you, but overall, the movie relies on jump scares. I tend to be okay with jump scares in general, but with a movie like this, there was a lot of potential for the more atmospheric stuff that they missed out on. If you’re going to make a horror movie, based heavily on the idea of yurei, at least do it right.

The movie relies on a lot of things that aren’t really new. I mentioned the jump scares already, but there is also a large chunk of the movie that focuses on the physical bond between identical twins. It manages to come into play and have a point in the end, but through the majority of the movie it was almost eye-roll worthy. The main character uses this twin bond to justify her more reckless decisions. The bond between twins comes into play a lot in horror movies, and The Forest really doesn’t do it much differently.

That being said, The Forest does do a decent job with the psychological aspects involved. I would have loved to see more of that, but that probably would have changed the tone of the entire movie (and maybe that would have been for the better). The paranoia that the main character was feeling could have potentially been great if they stayed on the psychological side more than the supernatural side. There was definitely enough material they could have used to back it up.

In the end, The Forest is an average horror movie. It came out in January of 2016, so my expectations weren’t super high for it in the first place. January releases aren’t usually the most anticipated for horror films. My low expectations were met. It was exactly how I imagined it would be. At this point, I probably wouldn’t recommend the movie overall.

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