Tuesday 23 February 2016

The Forest (US 2016: Dir Jason Zada)

A few reviewers recently have been bemoaning the rise of PG horror - scary movies that limit gore, violence and intensity to ensure they play to as wide an audience as possible - and including The Forest as a prime example of why this strategy doesn't work. There are lots of reasons why The Forest doesn't work, but it's nothing to do with toning down the content - the movie's been given a 15 certificate in the UK anyway, a classification which is a pretty broad church and which most modern horrors seem to get awarded. And there are plenty of films that are scary without being overtly gory.

No, first time feature director Jason Zada's The Forest doesn't work because it's a tedious, derivative and wholly pointless film, which makes absolutely no sense even as you're watching it (as opposed to those movies where you get a 'no sense' hangover trying to understand a movie after you've seen it).

Sara Price learns of her twin sister Jess's disappearance while teaching in Tokyo. Jess apparently took a class of kids into the infamous Aokigahara forest in the shadow of Mount Fuji, and disappeared. This place is known as 'Suicide Forest' because of the number of people who enter the area to take their own life. Refusing to believe that her sister has killed herself, Sara travels to Japan to locate Jess, enlisting the help of Aiden, a guy she meets in a bar and Michi, a park ranger.

The first thirty or so minutes of The Forest had me looking up various sources to confirm or deny that it was a remake of a Japanese horror movie, a habit so beloved by US film makers a few years ago. As well as the 'authentic' locations (although apparently Serbia stood in for Japan) we get the familiar homespun exposition delivered as warning - the forest contains spirits, unhappy ghosts of previous suicide victims, seeking revenge, who will cause you harm if you stray from the path etc. But this is no remake, although it may as well have been as it's so derivative. To be honest the early scenes were well set out, good to look at, and boded well for something, if not original, then at least engaging.

The trouble starts when Sara arrives at the forest visitor centre and shows a photo of Jess to the proprietor (yep, she shows a photo of her identical twin for recognition purposes). In a nice bit of cross racial profiling the lodge lady confirms that Jess has been found and takes Sara down to the basement morgue where a number of bodies are laid out under sheets. Bodies. In a morgue. In a tourist lodge. In summer. Now I know that the Japanese way of death is rather different to western traditions, but this is, well I was going to write ridiculous but that becomes relative once the film progresses. However in trad DEoL fashion I won't divulge any more of the plot, except to mention that the body in the morgue isn't Jess, Sara does stray off the path, there is a lot of screaming and running, and the audience is left wondering what is real, what is in Sara's mind, and did Jess really exist in the first place? You probably don't need me to add that I cared not a jot by the end.

Acting wise it's all fairly efficient if unremarkable. Gimlet-eyed Brit girl-who-is-in-everything-at-the-moment Natalie Dormer stars as Sara and Jess - you can tell the difference because Jess has dark hair, although they both have reasonably convincing US accents. She does a pretty good job of being scared, and the camera can't take its eyes off her (I still think she looks like a skinnier version of Charlie Brooks but that's probably just me).

There's a rather unsavoury footnote to all this. Apparently Aokigahara forest is an actual place, in the shadow of Mount Fuji in Japan, and is renowned as a suicide site - sources tells us that there can be up to 100 deaths a year here - and a number of the details about techniques used by the suicidal are included in The Forest. Nice. No wonder that the film makers had to find another country for their location. Now I'm not an overly sensitive person but this all left a rather nasty taste in my mouth. Not recommended for all sorts of reasons then.

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