The Forest (2016)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #582

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 8, 2016
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Budget: $10,000,000
Box Office: $37,600,000
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Jason Zada
Producers: Tory Metzger, David S. Goyer, David Linde
Screenplay: Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell, Nick Antosca
Special Effects: Cliff Wallace
Visual Effects: Stuart Cripps, Adam McInnes
Cinematography: Mattias Troelstrup
Score: Bear McCreary
Editing: Jim Flynn
Studios: AI-Film, Lava Bear Films
Distributors: Gramercy Pictures, Icon Film Distribution
Stars: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Rina Takasaki, Noriko Sakura, Yûho Yamashita, James Owen

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Suggested Audio Sushi:

[1] Bear McCreary The Forest

[2] Bear McCreary Journey To Aokigahara

[3] Bear McCreary Curse Of The Yurei

 

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It’s astonishing what you’ll find on good old Wikipedia. When producer David S. Goyer read about the ancient “suicide forest” Aokigahara in Mount Fuji, Japan and realized that it had been previously untapped by horror, he swiftly pitched the idea to budding filmmaker Jason Zada and they set out to remedy this post-haste. In no time Zada became obsessed with its folklore and hopped on the next flight out there to get a feel for the location they were looking to feature. True to form, Aokigahara turned out to be every bit the creepy assed place suggested and the last forest on earth you’d wish to pitch a tent in. If it was inspiration that he was searching for, then he sure as sweet and sour dumplings found it. When you consider that Zada’s prior experience amounted only to shorts, for his first full-length feature to boast a budget of $10 million says something for the studio’s faith in the project and his ability to deliver it to fruition.

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Not everything went smoothly and they ran into problems when attempting to kick-start principal photography as the government do not permit filming there. Thus they selected a similarly eerie set of coordinates near Tara Mountain, Serbia and shot there instead. The result is The Forest, the kind of here comes the penny drop supernatural chiller that traditionally fares well at the box-office. Indeed it did, to the tune of almost four times its original outlay no less, and it benefitted from an extensive marketing campaign and the hype that soon built around it. The Japanese have a history rich in Western ghost lore and the Yūrei 幽霊 have cropped up habitually since the rise of J-horror back in the late nineties. Break the two kanji down and you are left with the following interpretation – 幽 (yū) meaning dim and 霊 (rei) denoting spirit. Talk about prime sushi for the serving. I’ll admit to being somewhat aroused myself as the culmination of potential and pledge was too enticing to pass up.

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Our travel companion here is Sara Price (Natalie Dormer), a rather determined young woman who, after receiving a call from Tokyo authorities to inform her that her twin sister Beth has turned up missing, convinces herself that she simply must get to the bottom of it in person.

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Her fiancé, Rob (Eoin Macken), reveals his concerns but he’s pissing in the wind as Sara isn’t the easiest to sway once her mind is made up. Legend has it that the spirits within Aokigahara feed on people’s sadness driving them to suicide and, considering Beth has a history of failed suicide attempts and was last seen heading in unaccompanied, it’s Tokyo or bust for Sara.

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After a chance meeting with Australian travel reporter Aiden (Taylor Kinney) in her hotel bar and tantalizing him with her story, she acquires his services along with experienced rambler Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) as their guide. We are then dropped into Aokigahara with the trio and, while Michi doesn’t take the place lightly and Aiden too has his concerns, Sara hasn’t the slightest interest in leaving until she has located her twin and trusts her gut’s communication implicitly.

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This is all fine and dandy until nightfall, when the forest has a tendency to play its foul tricks. The Yūrei are reportedly more than happy to let their victims do the legwork and quietly coerce them towards madness. This bodes particularly ominously for Sara as she has herself some unresolved and deep-rooted childhood trauma as additional baggage and you can almost hear the spirits rubbing their hands together gleefully.

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It has to be noted that initially, Sara is not the easiest customer to warm to. Bloody-minded in the ultra-extreme and standoffish with all she happens across, audience inclusive, we learn precious little about her in an opening act that is effectively an extended travelogue. That said, despite her character’s reluctance to share, Dormer nails the role down sternly and the revelation about her closet shadows ignites a certain something within her.

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Meanwhile very little is known about Aiden and, though we’re screaming out to Sara that she should ignore those pesky voices, in truth he doesn’t make it easy for himself. Kinney acquits himself well also and we can feel those twisted roots congregating about our ankles as we are ushered towards the all-important closing act.

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It’s here that something doesn’t sit right for me. You see, while Zada is seemingly playing for a less jarring approach to scaring his audience and relies on rhythmic editing and ambient noise to draw you into the tree hollow, the last half hour fritters every last opportunity to maximize its tension. Worse still, aside from a couple of semi-decent chills, it opts for played out, unimaginative, and occasionally preposterous as opposed to deeply affecting as was pretty much laid out before him in a ghoulish spread.

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By the time it delivers us to the root, the plot has been lost entirely, any suspense soundly squandered, and the closing shot is as insipid as pulse-driven Hollywood dirge at its most calculated. Seldom have I felt so uninspired and, yet, The Forest is far from an outright dud.

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My most significant gripe is that it lays out all the tools at its disposal, uses some sparingly, and flat-out washes its hands of the rest. As a result, I frowned away the credits, and that just reeks of missed opportunity to Keeper. However here is the kicker for Zada as he is a winner on not one but two counts here and set for greater things I’m convinced.

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Firstly, he has the eye for detail and ability to convey his tale optically, and that is incalculable moving forward. Secondly, almost $30 million net profit ain’t to be sniffed at and acts as virtual guarantor for his next project. Zada has done what he set out to and reasonably astutely to boot, now it’s all about learning those lessons and venturing on. As for The Forest, well it certainly has itself plentiful bark and is positively weeping dark promise but regrettably just can’t seem to find that all-important bite.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Dread Factor: 2/5

For the Dread-Heads: Aokigahara is ripe with dark promise and little touches like the lengths of string that direct us towards any spirits already surrendered aid no end in stirring up a sense of dread. Alas, they never really lead anywhere in particular and, instead, there are just too many hand-me-down crowd pleaser moments for my liking. With a little more care and attention this could and should have been really unnerving but it didn’t make me want to dig out my compass and hiking boots if that counts for anything.

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