THE FOREST (USA/15A/93mins)
Directed by Jason Zada. Starring Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa.
THE PLOT: Thirtysomething housewife Sara (Dormer) has a pretty sweet life, being married to successful restaurateur Rob (Macken), her happy life interrupted only by a call from the school in Japan where her identical twin sister, Jess (also Dormer), teaches. Jess has gone missing, having last been seen entering the notorious Aokigahara forest – a local suicide hotspot full of hocus pocus and trees that go creak in the night. Flying straight to Tokyo, Sara is unconcerned about all the ominous Ghibli-esque myths and legends surrounding the forest, meeting up with American travel writer Aiden (Kinney) as she goes deeper into “the sea of trees”…
THE VERDICT: Even beyond the Japanese setting, but there’s something about this supernatural horror from Jason Zada that feels like yesterday’s boos.
Natalie Dormer won’t be making the leap from small screen ‘Game Of Thrones’ fame to the big leading lady league with this painfully bland offering, The Forest being the sort of so-so horror that would need buzzers in cinema seats to jolt an audience. When the frights do finally arrive here, they’re just about scary enough to make Vincent Price snigger.
Review by Paul Byrne

The Forest
Review by Paul Byrne
2.0Painfully bland
  • filmbuff2011

    The Forest is another of those wannabe great horror films that struggles to get past the familiar trappings of the genre. If anything, it falls easily into those traps big time and plays out with increasing predictability.

    Sara (Natalie Dormer) wakes up from a nightmare. She believes her twin sister, Jess (also Dormer) who is an English teacher in Japan, is in mortal danger. She quickly takes a flight to Tokyo. Upon arrival, she finds out that Jess was last seen walking into the Aokigahara Forest. This has a dark sense of foreboding. Nestled on the steps of the mighty Mount Fuji, the forest has come to be known as the Suicide Forest. Suicide not being a taboo in Japan, people just walk in and many never come back alive. Having a strong connection with her twin, Sara believes that Jess is still alive and is lost somewhere off-track in the dense woods. In a bar, she meets fellow American and travel writer Aiden (Taylor Gilley). He knows a Japanese tour guide who goes off track for suicide watch. She tags along and finds Jess’ tent, hoping that she’s nearby. Their tour guide doesn’t want to stay in the forest at night and warns them of evil, restless spirits. They decide to stay the night. Bad idea…

    The Forest is the feature debut of Jason Zada, but it’s not exactly an auspicious one. The problem with The Forest is that we’ve seen this before – or at least something very similar. J-Horror was big business in the late 1990s, in the wake of Ringu, Ju-On: The Grudge and other imitators – and their inevitable Hollywood remakes. Japanese ghost girls and spooky, pale-faced boys were all the rage. Horror has moved on from all that, to the point that The Forest feels distinctly retro. This film should have been made 15 years ago. The core idea, that of a Suicide Forest, is an intriguing one. Zada treats the forest with reverence – but then pulls off some increasingly silly antics. Sara wandering off in the dark by herself, ghostly figures appearing out of nowhere, hands crawling across a tent… That’s by-the-numbers horror that plays it safe. It doesn’t tap into the really primal stuff, what makes us really scared. That’s something that the superb, also-forest-set upcoming film The Witch achieves in spades. The Witch is the film that The Forest wants to be – but it just doesn’t have that talented a director.

    The only really good thing that this film has going for it is Dormer. After a decade working in supporting roles in the likes of The Tudors, Game Of Thrones and The Hunger Games, here she finally gets a well-deserved lead. She’s not only pretty, but she can act too. She keeps both Sara and Jess grounded and just about keeps the film going. Frankly, the film doesn’t deserve her. Without her, this would be direct-to-DVD fare that wouldn’t merit much attention beyond the horror bargain bin. Forgettable. **