For a film all about loss and being lost, The Forest shows us how disoriented it was by dragging us along a familiar path with no real destination in mind.
The Forest proves to be too big for first-time film director Jason Zada. If the intention was for The Forest to be as equally paced and tonally exciting as a drudgingly dim walk through a forest, then the film is an immeasurable success. It successfully blends all the joys of being lost in a forest with the scaring power of a kitten playing with yarn. It desperately tries to set itself up as a slow-burn film, but by staying through until the end, you’re the only one likely to get burned. There is no payoff, and the scares fail to land on every level. Even on the most basic of psychological levels, The Forest fails to register. Its first mistake was trying to demystify such a well-known landmark as the Aokigahara Forest. Trying to explain the unexplained with such a poorly developed, convoluted approach is always a recipe for disaster.
The reason the darkness (as a mystical entity) is such a compelling adversary in horror films is because it manages to keep its possibilities infinite. The limit of what lies waiting in the dark, shadowy recesses of the forest is up to your imagination. This film teeters unstably between trying to be a psychological thriller, taking a look at childhood trauma and its effects years later, and just a supernatural horror film with predictable jump scares that inspired more laughter than screams. The biggest difference between the two types is that first has the potential to create scares that can haunt you long after the film is over. The latter mostly comes off as pandering and borderline insulting to the intelligence of the viewer, who ends up audibly counting down to the next predictable attempt at horror.
As if using the well-established psychic connection between twins wasn’t shallow enough, this American made production clearly copied several aesthetic horror styles from various popular Japanese horror films. Films like The Ring, The Grudge, Pulse and Dark Water are only a few examples that The Forest more than just borrowed from. Zada had the right idea to try to emulate these films, but each had such a distinct style that by trying to combine all the best aspects of these films, he created a Frankenstein’s monster of a forest film with no distinguishable soul or identity of its own. You would never realize that there were three writers behind this film’s screenplay because at least 50 percent of it is just exterior forest shots.
Unfortunately for this film, the director wasn’t the only one up to the immense task laid out ahead of them. I’ve been a fan of Natalie Dormer’s work since The Tudors, and that has only grown through the years especially now in Game of Thrones. Her powerful on-screen performances as a supporting actress gave me hope that this film would be elevated by her playing multiple characters. Like the people going to commit suicide in the Aokigahara Forest, there was no hope or salvation to be had in The Forest. From beginning to end, Dormer’s characters felt forced and unnatural. You never quite believe her transformation as either character, and the filmmaker’s attempt to avoid having them in the same shot is beyond glaring. In a forest full of trees, most of the time Dormer’s performance was the most wooden thing there.
RATING: ★★★ (3/10 stars)