If you go down to the woods today…
In the early 2000’s, Japanese horror was at its pinnacle – films like ‘Ju-On: The Curse,’ ‘The Eye,’ ‘Audition,’ ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Pulse,’ to name a few, were all carving their marks and unleashing a refreshing, eerie form of terror in the horror marketplace. Of course, the western world needed to seize upon this growing trend of horror like a sweaty fat kid snatching a lollipop away from his emancipated cousin at a family gathering, and the inevitable reboots were made to appeal to audiences that couldn’t be bothered reading subtitles, so the eeriness factor was toned down instead to simply regurgitate clichéd film tropes with jump scares-a-plenty, typically made by a jarring string note at such a high decibel that only dogs and whales could hear them.
Director Jason Sada attempts to interweave the ghostly, minimalistic approach from the East, with the mainstream, familiar tactics from the West. The end result tries to buck the trend, but ultimately it doesn’t outweigh the overarching feeling that the movie falls into a predictable, repetitive affair.
The story follows Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) who arrives in Tokyo after receiving a phone call from local police stating that her twin sister (also played by Dormer) has gone missing whilst walking into Aokigahara, a forest at the base of Mount Fuji that has become known as the “Suicide Forest,” on account of the considerable number of people who end their lives within it.
If anyone who knows their local forests will tell you (I absolutely don’t, so a quick Google search later…) Aokigahara is a real place of tragedy where many Japanese people go to end their lives. Dependent on how you feel, there’s something a little disquieting about that backdrop, but I was sure after watching ‘The Forest,’ that it was definitely a place I wanted to visit and cross off my bucket list.
The Legend goes that spirits in the forest feed on people’s juju energy, or in particular their sadness, driving them to suicide. Throughout flashbacks during the film, we learn that the Price sisters have undergone a traumatic childhood event (of course they have!) that reverberates throughout the 1h 33 minutes. Sara has one of those ‘telepathic twin’ hunches that her sister is still alive, so travels to Tokyo and is eventually accompanied by Aiden (played by Taylor Kinney), a journalist who thinks her story would make for a great humane piece, and tour guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) who treks through the forest in his spare time to find people that might be thinking about taking their lives.
For the first forty minutes or so, first-time feature director Jason Zada ambles his leading lady through the Lost in Translation basics: sullen looks out of taxi cab windows at the Tokyo neon signs twinkling in the cityscape; ominous hotel hallways and awkward social interactions – so it’s a while before any spirits or malevolent forces appear; when they do arrive, that jump scare jarring music cue is absent – Zada clearly shows that the usual tactics of the genre have grown stale and predictable, and while he isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, he’s at least trying to give it a good squirt of WD40.
This doesn’t last, however. As Sara uncovers more details about her sister’s activities leading up to her disappearance, the film starts to fall into predictable, repetitive clichés. The ‘is Sara hallucinating, or is the Forest ethereally and magically manipulating her?’ starts jackhammering at your brain, deflating the tension from earlier scenes. There are also a few red herrings thrown into the mix to try and confuse your expectations, but the thin veneer of adding depth to the storyline is quashed when the final revelations are revealed.
If you’re looking for a slow burning, eerie approach for a modern take on a ghost story, ‘The Forest,’ should entertain for an hour and a half.
For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
STORGY Score: 5.5/10
Review by Anthony Self