The Forest (2016)

1

**/*****

So here we find ourselves at the first trashy horror film of the year. But don’t let this statement, and the rating I’ve given, deter you from seeing The Forest – it’s well worth a watch regardless. Let me explain.

The premise for this film promises an excellent modern Horror flick. With roots in real history and geographic location, following Japanese mythology, The Forest tells the story of a woman who goes to the haunted Aokigahara Forest in Japan (otherwise known as The Sea of Trees, or the Suicide Forest) in order to find her missing twin sister.

This had the potential to be a really great movie, however I feel like it didn’t quite deliver what I was hoping for. The films’ opening scenes feel rushed, leaving characters underdeveloped incorporating bad and unnatural dialogue. The film cuts between past and present at the beginning, Sarah at home vs Sarah travelling to Japan, which further quickens the beginning and confuses the audience – are we supposed to be learning about the films main character? or are we taking a journey with her? Doing both at the same time overcomplicates the opening and takes the film off to a bad start.

The film begins to redeem itself only when we get to japan and the actual forest, in which the pace slows and Natalie Dormer’s character Sarah begins to reveal more about herself and Dormer relaxes into the role. We find out more about her character and family unit through Aiden (played by Taylor Kinney), an Australian reporter, in Japan writing an article about the forest, who takes an interest in Sarah’s story.

The complexity of Aiden’s character is captured beautifully by Kinney, who manages to portray him as a trustworthy companion and friend, but also as a deceitful enemy with ulterior motives. This balance is crucial, as the audience, like Sarah, are left wondering who he is and what he wants.

Natalie Dormer’s performance of Sarah is somewhat inconsistent, but this is largely due to some very questionable dialogue at the beginning of the film that stopped me from feeling completely convinced by the character. Although this dialogue lets the character down in places, the portrayal of emotion is consistent and believable.

Dormer, of course, also plays Sarah’s twin Jess. In contrast to Sarah, her portrayal of Jess (what we DO see of her, anyway) is a much more comfortable and believable performance as a whole from Dormer, which justifies the role of the ‘overdramatic and brooding’ sibling that Jess is supposedly to fulfil.

The family element of the film is well thought through and helps to forward the plot. The use of sound becomes vitally important as Sarah is proved to be an untrustworthy narrator, due to an incident that occurred when she was a child. She did not witness the events that unfolded but her sister did, and the sound used in the flashback scene does not match up to Sarah’s account of the events that transpired. We are left wondering if we can trust Sarah and her judgements – which is one of the films’ biggest merits.

The lighting used in the film is fairly generic, darkness and light plays a big part in the films major scares, including one The Grudge-esque scene whereby flickering green lights cause Sarah to be frightened by a confused elderly lady down a long, dark corridor. One effective instance of lighting in the film is inside the Security Cabin that Sarah and Aiden come across. The bright orange light surrounding the basement door contrasts vividly against the blues and greens of the forest and the rest of the film.

I have briefly mentioned the cinematography, but will return to it now. The cinematography of the film is used mainly to pick and choose when information is divulged to the audience – which is key to any decent horror film. This is used most effectively in this film in the way that the forest twists Sarah’s mind until she is unable to tell what is real and what is not.

She does not know if she can trust Aiden, or anything else she sees whilst trapped in the vastness of the forest. Her paranoia and insanity peaks at the end of the film, upon realising that the family unit that she believed she had was just as fake as the rest of the hallucinations she had faced throughout her journey – an unpredictable end to a fairly predictable movie.

All in all, I would recommend this film to anyone looking for a mediocre night-in horror with friends. It ticks many genre trait boxes, with a few twists and turns, but overall could have been a much better film if greater attention was paid to plot and character development, as opposed to focusing on when the next scare will be. An amazing idea for a film, with a wonderfully rich and historical location that was not used to full effect and because of this, The Forest falls short of my hopeful expectations.

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