Horror movies are a bit of a conundrum when it comes to what makes one successful (as a piece of cinema, not financially) and what would relegate one to the dusty bins of failed grotesquerie. So many of those little things that add up to making a great horror movie can be mixed and matched for positive results, as long as a few ingredients are still present.
The Forest is basically 95 minutes of uninteresting people walking through a bunch of trees, literally waiting for something scary to happen to them. Even when things go from bad to worse, it is all too tame and predictable to merit even the slightest elevated heartbeat.
The main thing a successful horror film needs is a cast of characters we're interested in. If the film doesn't want us to be emotionally connected to their survival (Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street) then we need to be excited to watch them die (Hostel, Sheitan). But even if those two things are too far-reaching for the average horror movie, then we need some bloody and exciting kills, whether it be by slasher, demon, vengeful ghost or otherwise. The Forest fails at all three.
The Forest doesn't try to mess with the formula very much since it gives us a genre staple (identical twins) in a spooky environment (Japanese suicide forest) and then just kind of hangs back and hopes that is enough to make us scared. It's not.
Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones and the last two Hunger Games flicks) plays Sara and Jess Price. Jess has headed into Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fiji and the Japanese police think she is dead. Sara then goes to the forest, desperate to find the sister that she has spent a lifetime trying to rescue from bad decisions.
While in a bar, Sara meets Aiden (Taylor Kinney from Chicago Fire and also Lady Gaga's man friend), a writer for a travel magazine who will help get her access to the back areas of the forest if she lets him write about the story of the hunt for her sister. Once they arrive in the forest together along with a Japanese guide, the rules of the film are set in motion.
Every single person that Sara runs into on her way to the forest tells her not to leave the trail, ever, because then the spirits of the dead will make her see things that aren't there and she'll never find her way out again. Since Sara is already a somewhat irrational and unlikable character, we assume everything she sees in the forest is a product of her panicking and feverish mind, thus making all of the scary things inherently boring since it's all just a dream.
If Sara was relatable or if Jess was actually a character in the film instead of someone we only see in flashbacks, then we could find some investment. As it stands, we have a small group of people we don't care for, so the somewhat creepy cinematography is wasted on them.
The Forest tries to be a character drama inside of a horror movie, but since it relentlessly fails at following the formula or blazing itself a new path, it is instead a limp retread of decades old J-Horror entries like Ringu and The Grudge. If you are a casual horror fan, there might be a few shocking moments in here for you, but the seasoned horror completist can leave this one behind unless looking for some genuine inspiration to make a much better horror movie with less money and more scares.
Dir. Jason Zada
Now Playing at Old Mill Stadium 16