Horror movies are easy to produce. They’re the cheapest and easiest movie genre formula to replicate; it’s why video rental stores (remember those caveman days?) had so many direct-to-DVD horror movies with eye catching covers that you never heard of before. I once rented “Donnie Darko” mistaking it for a horror movie and ending up with a far more cerebral film instead. “The Forest” kind of falls into the same misaligned assumptions: it looks like a horror movie, but plays more like a psychological thriller…only it’s nowhere NEAR “Donnie Darko” quality. It follows “Game of Thrones” and “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” rising star Natalie Dormer as Sara Price, a woman who gets a call from a Japanese policeman that her twin sister, Jess, has vanished into a mysterious forest where people go to commit suicide.
Refusing to believe her sister would take her own life, Sara flies to Japan and manages to strong arm a few citizens to help her enter the forest and search for her sister. Refusing to leave once she enters, Sara and her guides soon find out that the spirits of its suicidal visitors are angry and vengeful and looking to unload their unfinished business/rage on Sara and her friends. Though the trailers and ads flash all manner of ghoulish imagery to make you think this is a ghost story, it relies far more on psychological scares then ghostly ones. Once Sara and her group enters the forest, you’re treated to a buffet of weird sounds, spooky imagery and shadowy things that pop up and sneak around in random places. And while I admit there is plenty of eerie imagery and visuals, you could see dozens of the film’s jump scares a mile away; both in commercial buzz and well…they’re pretty obvious too spot.
The film doesn’t seem to want to bother developing its characters because once the film starts, were already seeing Sara flying to Japan to find her sister. No time to find out about her life, her boyfriend, or even a believable reason why she’s certain her sister is alive. It boils down to a “twin thing” that she repeats over and over again, acting as if saying it enough times will make people think it’s a real thing worth betting people’s lives on. Having a film already submerging you into a constant general sense of creepiness and being on edge is a great way to captivate your attention from the get go. But the problem is “The Forest” isn’t scary. There are scary looking things, scary concepts and possibilities, but everything feels rushed and half assed for reasons unknown. My bet is laziness. That’s why 90% of their jump scares are seen in the trailers and commercials, it’s literally all of their scare tactics being reused just to make people see the movie and think they’ll get more, when in fact, this is all they got.
It doesn’t help that Dormer’s acting is suffering from the crappy script. I know it’s the movie and not her sinking the film’s quality, I’ve seen her do good work in other films so to see her be so embarrassingly bad in this film is disappointing to say the least. I think if they went full mentally unhinged, kind of off-the-rails spooky with the visuals in the forest, believing it to be this crazy, hallucinatory mad house would have been easier to swallow. I saw a film called “Yellowbrickroad,” which ended up being a complete waste of time and totally nonsensical, did something similar. But as crappy as “Yellow” was, the level of visual madness represented made the character’s freak outs plausible then the wimpy, watered down scares “The Forest” tries to cough up. No one is likeable, nothing is memorable, no scare sticks with you and all the good things they COULD have used get wasted or not even utilized at all.
Overall, “The Forest” only has its location and spiritual history to its credit. Dormer gets saddled into a sucky state by a cripplingly bad script, the scares are mediocre and the movie doesn’t care about its cast or plot so really, why should you? There’s nothing beyond this forest’s trees other than boredom and a measly sampling of some creepy imagery. Ghosts, psychological, thrilling, label it in whatever genre you want; it still comes out to be as terrifying as flat soda pop.