Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Movie Review: The Forest (2016)



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Yep, there’s two films about Tokyo’s Suicide Forest that got a release this year. I know that the studio system tends to release similar films around the same time, but even still, this is an incredibly niche thing to make even a single film about, let alone two. That said, my reasoning for looking at both of those films today should be fairly obvious, especially considering how underwhelming Sea Of Trees turned out. Add to that how this is going to be a supernatural horror film, rather than the kind of bland melodrama we got last time, and I’m willing to give this idea another go. So, is this going to make proper use of the concept or, by some anti-miracle, is this going to turn out even worse? Ugh. Let’s just get into this thing already before the lack of engagement makes me pass out. This is The Forest.


The plot: Sara (Natalie Dorner) receives a phone call from the Japanese police that her twin sister Jess has gone missing in the Aokigahara Forest. Somehow sensing that she hasn’t died yet, she makes her way to Tokyo to try and find her with the help of travelling journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and off-the-books local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). However, once they make their way into the forest, it seems that the place’s notorious reputation is the least of their worries.

Man, Natalie Dorner sucks in this thing, which ends up being a far greater problem than it reasonably should be because she has been dual-cast as the twin sisters. No matter what creepy stuff happens to her, Dorner’s expressions never seem to fit the situation and seem like she’s more bored than anything else. Not only that, she barely even registers as a real character in her own right, which makes the concept of her playing two of them seem a bit overreaching. As such, the only real signifier that these are even two different characters is their different hair colour; yeah, always a good idea to go with anime rules for identifying the characters that are the main source of drama in the film. When their relationship is meant to fuel the plot this much, having her be this unconvincing when the two girls are on screen (or even on their own) is not a good thing. On top of that, Kinney is just okay as the male lead and does a passable job as the conflicting personalities that he’s given, and Ozawa… exists, I guess; not much more to say than that.

The pacing is incredibly sluggish, taking its sweet-ass time to get to the titular Forest and not just setting up what is honestly a pretty basic premise in the first place. It starts out on a really foul note with a literally incoherent opening which gives the impression that Sara took a flight to Tokyo because she had a bad dream. Okay, the film does clear that up and give her a better rationalization for it, but that’s definitely telling that the filmmakers end up making what is frankly an amateur mistake. It then proceeds to stall until the second half of this hour-and-a-half film before we even get into the titular Forest, and not for any justifiable reasons either.

If there’s anything that this film takes its time with more than its plot, it’s the scares. Or, more accurately, the complete lack of scares. For the entire first half of the film, anything even remotely scary that we see is either a jump scare caused by a character in the film on accident, a dream sequence that has no real bearing on the plot, or both. When we actually do get to the Forest, it is far from thrilling. I mean, Sea Of Trees made the place look scarier than this and that was supposed to be a drama. And then there’s how, once Sara arrives in Tokyo, she keeps getting told about what the forest’s history is, the things that haunt it and even the effect they have on people. For the same reason that the jump scares/dreams aren’t scary, the weirdness in the forest isn’t scary: Because we can see it coming.

You know, as much as Sea Of Trees didn’t really know how to use its setting, it at least showed a want to use its setting. Here, it’s not only a story that is in no way unique to the locale but it literally could have been set in any forest. It tries to go for psychological thrills, which kind of fall flat because the characters going through it don’t think twice about what they’re actually doing, not to mention that none of it making any sense. I get that it’s supposed to make us question what we’re seeing, but there still needs to be an internal logic to it and some form of consistency; this film has neither, which makes anything that happens, spooky or otherwise, difficult to take seriously. Oh, and an ending that fails to register because it relies on the film’s middling approach to messing with the character’s heads (and the audience’s in turn). I never thought I’d pull out the Snob card on a film like this, but if I want to see a story from this year where characters lose their grip on reality in a creepy forest, I’ll stick with Blair Witch, thank you very much.

All in all, this is somehow even more underwhelming than Sea Of Trees; at least that had actors being compelling as best they could. The performances, especially from Natalie Dorner, are the kind that are usually reserved for the bottom rung of lazy horror titles, which is rather fitting with how intent this film is keep telling us how scary it is rather than actually showing it. Add some generic spooky forest antics and a failure to understand how psychological horror works to the mix, and you’ve got a criminally underwhelming scare flick. It’s worse than The Huntsman: Winter’s War, which is about as bad as this in terms of pointlessness but at least it had a couple decent performances in it. However, since this is pretty disposable as a product, it doesn’t sting as much as Morgan, a film that so desperately wanted to the audience to congratulate it on its own self-supposed intellect. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot stand pretence.

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