The Forest built what could be an interesting premise, something which we rarely see these days in horror films—unfortunately, it chooses to take this interesting premise of a gentle woodland stroll and then leaves it there to die.
When Sarah (Natalie Dormer) goes in search for her twin sister Jess (also played by Natalie Dormer) who disappeared from her teaching job in Japan, many fear the worst as she was last seen walking into Aokigahara, a real place in Japan that is also known as the suicide forest. Based on a genuinely haunting place, this film had the potential to create something truly unnerving—and also possibly quite beautiful, but it instead relies on tired old tropes which it adheres to without much enthusiasm or success.
It seems like quite an easily workable premise: being lost in the woods alone, surrounded by the hanging bodies of tortured souls. This is something which should at least be a little scary, but somehow it isn’t. And that’s the main issue with this film, it simply isn’t scary at all. In fact, it’s quite boring. There is no sense of suspense throughout the film, with only a few jump scares offered as what we’ve come to accept as the traditional substitute for any substance in most modern day horrors; however, in the advent of snapchat filters, even these have lost any bite they once had.
To her credit, Natalie Dormer does her best in this film. She gives a genuinely believable performance, and somehow manages to whittle two characters out of a film that honestly, barely gives her enough material for one. In fact, this is another premise that the film could have worked better with—you barely see the twin sister Jess at any point in this movie, which is a shame because as I say, it seems that Natalie Dormer could really pull off the dual role. It’s not exactly Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, they chose to dress one twin like an Amanda Seyfried character and the other as Wednesday Adams in order to distinguish them apart, but it was an aspect of the film that I enjoyed watching.
You can’t say the same for Dormer’s co-star Nick Antosca who plays Aiden, a fellow American who acts as Sarah’s companion through the forest and does absolutely nothing in this role; answering the age old question: “if a character gets lost in a forest and there’s no audience to care what happens to them, will it make an impact in any way at all?” to which the answer is apparently no. The rest of the characters in this film consist almost solely of Japanese stereotypes (sushi chefs, school girls and so forth).
The whole film is just a disappointment. Mainly because it contained elements which could have made a good horror film, which recently, the film industry has been lacking; with a few exceptions in the last few years. A good actor, an interesting setting and the directing do not seem too bad. If you excuse the occasional moment where the camera pans around the character whilst they desperately search for something or someone, then the film isn’t too bad look-wise. But while it appears to be trying to enlist the art of spectral Japanese horror, it falls back on lacklustre and formulaic American horror. The makers of this film were messing with forces they clearly did not understand.
In short the film’s tagline to not “stray from the path” does not ring true at all. In fact, if you were to ever visit Aokigahara forest, I would recommend going off the path; the surrounding area looks like a beautiful and relaxing space. The scariest thing that’s going to happen is someone stumbling into your tent while you’re asleep. But don’t worry, after that, nothing really happens.