Aaron takes a look at “The Forest”(2016), A Natalie Dormer vehicle that focuses on the Japanese suicide forest; he’s got a lot to say about it…
“If you see anything bad, it’s not real…”
Well thank fuck for that is all I can say. Now before I begin, let me just start by saying that I’m going to be going into quite a bit of detail in this review, but to not be alarmed, as I won’t give away any important plot points, so if you are wanting to see this film, you can do so after reading this with none of the “good stuff” ruined for you, albeit this film is somewhat on the minimal side when it comes to the aforementioned ‘good stuff’. So, are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then allow us to begin.
To begin with, let’s just get one thing straight, shall we? Yes, we all know that Japanese Horror flicks are notorious for being absolutely terrifying, that’s a thing we’ve all come to grips with and have learned to accept, mainly due to their rich paranormal culture and folklore that can be thrown into pretty much any modern day setting, and whilst this premise turns itself up to 11 on the fear-factor, it can also be somewhat artistic, soul-crushing, and for the most part, tragically beautiful. However, just because you’ve set your film in Japan, and yes, I’m talking to you, Western Civilisation, that doesn’t automatically make your film scary, let alone good.
Now, don’t get me wrong, when my boss asked me to review this film I did a little bit of reading first, and I have to say it did spark my interest as I have always been somewhat curious when it comes to what this film is initially about. It is set in a real-life forest known as Aokigahara, which has been dubbed as The Suicide Forest, and yes, it is just as grim as its name suggests. For hundreds of years, people have been going into this forest for one reason and one reason only: to ‘off’ themselves. Yup, it’s that simple. So when I saw that there was a film about it, I think it’s fair to say that it grabbed my attention. ‘But Handsome Aaron, you haven’t told us what the film is about!’ I hear you all saying, well fret not, my children, because here is the short and skinny of it…
Sara (played by Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer) has a twin sister who lives in Japan and is a teaching assistant. Her class goes out on a school trip into the Suicide Forest (which isn’t uncommon, as you have to remember that it is a strong part of Japan’s culture), but Jess (Sara’s twin), goes off the trail and gets lost. How this happened, we’re not entirely sure, but fuck it, why ask questions, right? So in turn, Sara goes off to Japan in search for her sister in the forest. Not a bad premise for a film by any means. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much as good as it gets. So with that being said, here are my gripes with the film which I’m sad to say pretty much started from the get-go.
Sara gets off the phone to the Japanese Police who tell her that her sister has gone missing, and that she did so in the Suicide Forest. So Sara – quite rightly – turns to her husband and says “I’m going to Japan”, and in the classic style of poor writing, hubby says “Nah, I wouldn’t bother. You know what she’s like, and let’s face it: it’s only a suicide forest where she’s been missing for more than 48 hours and presumed dead. I’m sure she’s fine.” So straight away, I was rolling my eyes.
Then, after a long flight from America, a taxi ride, a night in a hotel (stay with me here) and a long-ass train journey to Fuji, Sara finally arrives at the evil forest where she shuns all things that aren’t her own culture and turns her nose up at everything that isn’t Western fare. Then my bullshit meter went mental. You know why? I’ll tell you. She then goes to a bar, where her sister had apparently been seen four days previously and surprise-surprise, who does she bump into? An American named Aiden. I am not kidding. Not only was it not enough for our leading lady to be American, but the chiselled, well-groomed, masculine supporting role had to be as well. We couldn’t have a Japanese person do it in a movie that’s based in Japan, now could we? No. That would be ridiculous.
More eye-rolling commences.
And not only that, Aiden is a journalist for an Australian magazine, who just so happens to be writing a bloody article about the bloody forest and has a bloody pass to go in there the next bloody day. Oh how bloody convenient.
So the next day, Queen Margery, Grizzly Adams and their guide Michi head off into the forest. Ah yes, let the horrors begin! Now, Michi seems like a pretty good character as far as things go, and he definitely knows his stuff when it comes to the forest, telling them that angry spirits will try to find ways of making people who are feeling sad kill themselves and such, which is true to the lore of the land, and says “when it gets dark, we turn back” which they seem to agree with but then ultimately disagree with because reasons. Michi, after some bloody speech from Sara, eventually (and pretty much) says “fuck it, you’re on your own, I’ll be back tomorrow” and Aiden decides to stay with the girl he doesn’t know in the woods (where no one can hear her scream) because creepy reasons. And of course, this is where out supernatural thriller comes in to play and you can probably guess what happens from there.
It’s a real shame, really, because this film could have been so good if they applied themselves. The premise is fantastic because this isn’t some fictional location or far-fetched plotline, this is a real place where stuff like this actually happens every year. The writers of this film clearly did their homework as well, as a lot of the lore is explained in remarkable detail, but there is just so much bullshit between the lines that I think it may be a directing issue more than anything else; which isn’t an unfair assumption after having watched this from start to finish and seeing that the director is a separate party from the writers all together, so with that in mind I’d love to see the original script (Brad, go fetch!).
So yeah, this movie could’ve been great, but it had some serious issues that let it down ridiculously that could’ve so easily been avoided, which mostly consisted of clichés. Things like the reminiscent home video of her sister blowing out candles on a birthday cake (which we haven’t seen a thousand fucking times before), or the predictable, lazy jump-scares that do nothing to actually aid the film or its story. Or when they first venture into the woods near the beginning of the film and they stumble across a dead body hanging from a tree (which Michi said could happen), and Michi says “We need to cut him down and make a note of where he is” to which Aiden stupidly replies “Why?”…Why to you fucking think, mate? Or the fact that Sara doesn’t entirely trust Aiden (the bloke who is helping her), but is happy to listen to and follow the creepy, cryptic speaking teenage girl who pops up when Sara is alone, and won’t stop fucking smiling in the middle of a suicide forest. Great work, lads!
Or, now get ready for this, my biggest gripe, the following: Now, remember that ‘long-ass’ journey I mentioned earlier? Well, later in the film (at about the halfway point, so still no spoilers ahead), Michi goes back to where he left Sara and Aiden and sees they’re not there. Meanwhile, Sara’s down a hole. This lasts all of two minutes. We then cut back to Michi, who now has a search party and would you believe it, Sara’s husband is right there with them! Right fucking there! How did he get there so quickly? With magic?! Must’ve been!
So all in all, this was not a very good film at all, and it’s such a shame because – as I mentioned earlier – it had all the promise to be a quality film. If I were those writers, I would’ve sent my screenplay to a Japanese production company with a watertight contract of creative control and let the Japanese really have at it, because it would’ve been a totally different film entirely. But instead, we got lumbered with this 90 minute yawn-fest that just had me rolling my eyes all the way through and it really is tragic. The only real saving grace for this film was Yukiyoshi Ozawa who plays Michi, because to be honest, he was the only one in the film who could actually bloody act.
Now, all of this could be down to bad directing, or it could be down to piss-poor writing (at this point, neither would surprise me), so as I mentioned, I’d love to see the original script. But whatever it’s down to, this just isn’t a good film.
4 out of 10
Aaron Waters is a Horror Blogger/writer, Music Fan and all-round Nihilist.