Aokigahara, also known as the Suicide Forest, is an infamous location in Japan due to the large number of suicides that occur there. Historically, there are also demons from Japanese mythology associated with the forest. In a country where the leading cause of death in men aged 20-44 is suicide, Aokigahara is significant but tragic. That is the reason that a horror film about Aokigahara doesn’t quite mesh well; the Suicide Forest is sad rather than scary. “The Forest” is not the first American film to feature Aokigahara, nor is it automatically the worst (Gus Van Sant’s “See of Trees” premiered at Cannes last year to boos), but it’s pretty awful on just about every conceivable level.
From the first sloppily edited sequence, the exploitation of Aokigahara becomes apparent. Sara Price, an American woman played by English actress Natalie Dormer (don’t worry, that’s the least offensive thing that happens), finds out that her twin sister (also Natalie Dormer) has gotten lost in the Suicide Forest and is believed to be dead. Sara travels to Japan where she is greeted by insane Asian men and alienated by judgmental Asian ladies. She then meets a white dude named Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who accompanies her in the forest through the night, against the recommendation of the guide (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), and attempts to save her from the scary Asian schoolgirl demons in the forest.
So the film is a bit culturally insensitive. Is it at least scary? Well, not really. Most of the scares are underdeveloped and underproduced, giving off a very amateurish vibe. Often times the special effects are poorly done, and any tricks are shot in painfully obvious ways. This lack of technical competence works its way into the whole film, with exceedingly weak colorization, editing, and sound design. While the large amount of money invested into the film is clear, the large amount of effort is not.
The two characters played by Natalie Dormer only appear together in one scene, and the number of times both of their faces are seen in the same frame can be counted on one hand with extra room to pick berries. In the one scene the adult versions of the two characters interact, most of the shots are close-ups or over-the-shoulder, with the rare two-shot occurring with the sisters at a considerable distance. This is emblematic of the film as a whole. There are some interesting concepts in the movie, but they are all hastily manufactured and not fully taken advantage of.
Weak pacing, weak logic, and weak performances make “The Forest” a hard film to watch. With the first 50 minutes spent in anticipation and the last 40 spent in repetition, the narrative structure seems more based off of train of thought rather than something carefully crafted. The twists and reasoning offered by the film all apparently stem from someone whose ideas seem exciting in their head, but don’t translate onto the screen. The major characters are all pretty insufferable, and the supporting characters are all kind of offensive. Being a January horror film isn’t an excuse for this much to go wrong. 2/10.