The Forest is really for fans of horror who still get thrilled even in the face of obvious tricks (e.g., sudden blasts of noise or light to make the audience jump) and characters who do really foolish things. If there is a warning or a rule, they will inevitably disregard it, i.e., “Don’t get off the path”, and that is absolutely what they will do.
In this case, the path is in an enchanted forest in Japan with a reputation for its beauty and for being the site of suicides and mysterious events. The main character, Sarah (Dormer) is convinced her twin sister Jess is in the forest and in need of her help, so she flies to Japan and wangles her way into the fabled Aokigahara Forest with a guide. Aiden (Kinney) is an Australian reporter she meets in a bar who will be going into the forest with a trusted guide the next day, and he invites Sarah to go along.
The guide allows it, but outlines specific rules about staying on the path, not remaining inside the forest after dark, and to remember that if she sees anything strange, it’s not real; it’s all in her head. As noted above, in the next 24 hours, she will manage to break every rule and end up completely horrified. For those who take to these kinds of thrills and chills, they will be treated to a scary ride.
Natalie Dormer, best known for her role in the hit TV drama “Game of Thrones”, plays an entirely different character in The Forest; here, she is oppositional, headstrong, and has no trouble speaking her mind—at least in the beginning before she gets freaked out. Her performance is fine; it’s just that the script makes her an unappealing character; and then after the stage is set for her to seem paranoid and psychotic, a radical switch in the action makes you see her in an entirely different light. The problem is that there are no cues or logical transitions to carry you along to that conclusion; it’s a deux ex machina technique to end a story.
The most interesting aspect of The Forest is its apparent setting in an actual forest in Japan that is part of Japanese mythology (the filming actually took place in Serbia). The forest is very dense with trees, has icy caverns and is associated with demons, angry spirits of the dead, and paranormal events. And it is known as one of the favored places in the world to commit suicide. Cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup gives us grand vistas showing a dense forest in all its beauty, as well as the grounds with hanging corpses, exotic little crawling creatures, and underground cave-like passages.
A fairly typical horror story with the usual spills and thrills.
Grade: C- By Donna R. Copeland