At the foot of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji lies a forest with a notorious distinction. It is here that many come to end their lives in a fit of sadness or despair. Aokigahara Forest, or Suicide Forest, has been the basis for many ghost stories and folklore in Japanese culture for decades, and is also the subject matter of several films. The latest addition to celluloid interpretation is The Forest, a tale about a sibling bond that compels a determined woman to venture into the depths of the haunted forest.
Sarah is in search of her identical twin Jess (both played by Natalie Dormer), who has been teaching in Japan and was last seen entering the infamous Aokigahara Forest. Fearing for her emotionally damaged sister’s life, Sarah makes the trek across the world to retrace Jess’ footsteps. With the help of a mysterious guide, Aiden (Taylor Kinney), and forest ranger Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), Sarah uses her twin spidey-senses to track her sister, ignoring the rules needed to navigate the forest in the process. In her desperation, Sarah wanders the forest and spirals into a world of ghosts, illusions and mystery.
While director Jason Zada’s first feature film stayed away from being a carbon copy of standard J-horror fare, it lacked the complexity and substance to hold a seasoned horror fan’s attention. Not to mention the cheap jump scares that elicited giggles from the younger audience in the theater. The performances were solid, with Game of Thrones’ Dormer and Chicago Fire’s Kinney showing surprising chemistry, though even that gets stalled in order to create suspense.
What The Forest did do right was set up Sarah’s quest within the first five minutes of the film. It is fast, succinct and well-edited, and how a film should be presented in order to get to the meat of the story. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough on the bone to satisfy the horror appetite. The plot should have fleshed out Aiden’s character more, and could have found better use for the ghosts/yūreis. Instead, there is a family drama that gets thrown into the mix, muddling the point of the search. The film also did not do justice to the sad, haunting history of the forest, painting it more as a tourist trap and urban legend.
No need to rush out to see The Forest in the theater, in fact, save it for when you’ve got a late night horror hankering.