You can’t see the forest for the Yūrei.
Having known about The Forest, starring Natalie Dormer, for over a month prior to its Jan. 8 release, I was sorely let down. The film centers the dark history of the Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji, famed for its high number of suicides. With such a dark and rich concept to begin with, I had high hopes for this movie, which although not completely dashed, were definitely somewhat squashed.
The movie opened with a clumsy exposition of the main character’s troubled and lopsided relationship with her twin sister, a classic trope. I’m already annoyed with Sara (Dormer). She decides on the spur of the moment to go and find her sister Jess, who has a history of mental illness and suicide attempts and who has disappeared into the Aokigahara forest.
Sara’s departure is abrupt and unbelievable, with very little explanation as to how she’s managed to swing this with her boss and how on earth she’s affording to go to Japan in a millisecond’s notice. Her husband is the only one who raises objections to her sudden decision, but is swiftly overruled.
We then get a clunky exposition scene, in which Sara meets an Australian travel writer, Aiden (Taylor Kinney), who gets her drunk and manipulates her into spilling her story. While there needs to be some way for the narrative to get Sara into the forest, stumbling upon a man who just happens to be making a trip in with one of the only guides the very next day seems a little too convenient.
My next problem was the poor monster development. Have you seen The Grudge? The Ring? Any Japanese or Japanese-inspired horror which involves ghosts or ghostly figures? Don’t worry about these monsters then, you’ve seen them all. Although there is a decent explanation of the Yūrei, the monsters who haunt the forests, the appearance of the Yūrei is done cheaply and obviously, going straight for shock scares rather than any insidious buildup. It’s explained that the Yūrei prey on sadness and are supposed to act as reflections of your own mind and fears, but the monsters that haunt Sara appear largely unrelated to her, which weakens the whole premise of the Yūrei. The monsters are not original or employed well enough, so although they look terrifying, they simply don’t live up to their potential.
All in all, disappointing. The idea of knowing that someone you love has wandered into a place famed for suicides is a horrifying concept, but the underdeveloped characters, poorly utilized monsters and cheap scares destroy the atmosphere.
Scary equivalence rating: having a bad day at school and your mum jumping out the closet at you. Not funny or scary, Mum.
Written by: KATE SNOWDON – firstname.lastname@example.org