The Forest (2016) Review

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Can’t see The Forest for to the trees

The Forest (2016): 4 out of 10: Natalie Dormer stars as a woman who is searching for her twin sister (also unsurprisingly Natalie Dormer) who has gone missing while teaching in Japan. She was last seen headed towards Aokigahara the famous suicide forest at the foot of Mount Fuji. Japanese ghost shenanigans ensue.

The Good

Well, The Forest is not the worst Japanese Ghost horror movie I have ever seen. The Forest also has pretty solid acting across the board. Both Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney do what they can with their roles and have good chemistry together.

In addition, as can easily be seen from the screenshots captured below, there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half than watching Natalie Dormer run around a picturesque forest.

The Bad

There are hints of a good movie here. The story idea and location are certainly workable. The movie also introduces the idea that the handsome kind stranger/ love interest helping Natalie might be a big bad in disguise. The direction and script, however, drop the ball.

For starters, there are flashbacks to Natalie’s traumatic childhood. I didn’t find the flashbacks all that confusing per se. They were a bit narratively unnecessary. (The movie doesn’t seem to have a payoff for all the effort put in.) The young twins are portrayed, as The Cinema Snob’s Brad Jones points out, as if they were the twin girls from The Shining for no reason than creepy twin girls are scary.

The bigger mystery is why the flashbacks take place in what appears to be the early seventies. The movie takes place in the modern day and Natalie Dormer’s character doesn’t appear to be in her late fifties. It is as if the filmmaker had a visual idea of what a childhood flashback should look like (Wood panelling, station wagon, old-fashioned viewfinder) from movies he watched as a youth and it never occurred to him that time moves on.

Jump Scares

It also never occurred to the filmmaker that there are ways to scare an audience besides very random jump scares every ten minutes. This is simply lazy filmmaking. I like a good jump scare. (Jonesy the cat in Alien, for example). But it has to be narratively consistent and earned. More importantly, jump scares only work if you successfully create tension in the first place. Despite the scary location and premise, The Forest rarely creates any tension before yelling boo at the audience.

My frustration with The Forest is that Aokigahara is an excellent place to have a ghost story. It is a real life scary place. The filmmaker may have serious issues with story and pacing, but the film is well shot. As noted above, the acting is certainly better than one would expect for such a film, but the movie does nothing with it. Part of the issue might be the apparently cynical decision to make sure the film is only ninety minutes and PG-13 to maximise box office. But in reality, gore and nudity really wouldn’t save The Forest. Creating real tension between the leads and spending time isolated with Natalie Dormer’s character, unable to trust her own perception, would have done wonders to ramp up the tension. Then you can dress a dwarf in a schoolgirl outfit with makeup from Killer Klowns from Outer Space to jump at the audience.

The Ugly

Idiots complaining about using the Japanese suicide forest for a basis of a movie. Oh, no, this movie is racist because it has white people visiting Japan? I would note I was unable to actually find any Japanese complaints about the movie. This seems to be a collection of people being offended on behalf of the Japanese.

Bollocks. First of all, have you seen any Japanese horror films? The Forest is a tame kiddie ride. Second, Japan is an industrial empire with a history of visiting its neighbors without knocking. I am sure they will be fine. It is actually a weird kind of racism to infantilize Japanese culture to the point you have to swoop in and protect it from Natalie Dormer.

Then there is the question about using the suicide forest itself. What if the Japanese made a ghost story about 9/11? How would you feel? Well, I would be fine, honestly. I doubt the Japanese have made such a film, but I would put money on their being at least one 9/11 themed Bollywood Musical. If you have never seen a Bollywood film that takes place in “America” or “Europe ” you are in for a culture shock treat.

Look, I am from Ireland. If one is to be offended by Hollywood films that take place in foreign countries, I would like to put the Ireland on top of the list. The TV Tropes page for Oireland lists many of the almost endless offenses against Ireland committed by Hollywood. Hollywood always gets it wrong. It is just the way of movies.

In Conclusion

I still love Natalie Dormer. I just wish she would appear in better movies.

What animal is that on the Japanese display? A red panda? A fuzzy llama? I am at a complete loss.
Haunted or not, that has a B and B I so want to stay at written all over it. Hell, I am going to try to replicate it in my Mt. Komorebi neighborhood in Sims 4.
Natalie, after reading the script.
Credit is where credit is due. Natalie’s body language is screaming another draft beer in this scene.
Natalie letting the bartender know she will be back after todays filming.
I don’t see a tent. Is it a ghost tent? And why does that rock int he foreground look like a giant frog?
The movie does a nice job keeping the horror in the background.
Another good example of keeping the horror on the back foot with John Marston here going for a swim.
The Forest is hardly the first horror movie to swing and miss when it came time to show the monster.
Not just does this look like the same forest from 2017’s The Ritual, I swear it is the same cabin.
There are worse ways to spend an hour and a half than watching Natalie Dormer running around the Tara National Forest in Serbia pretending to be in Japan.
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