January was made for movies like The Forest, undemanding and completely average PG-13 horror flicks that go down easy and are quickly forgotten. Similar to other January genre fare like The Rite and The Unborn, The Forest is only notable for how diligently it sticks to the familiar. Three writers receive credit (including Nick Antosca, who worked on TV’s exceptional Hannibal series), but this could have been written by a computer program and no one would be surprised.
In an impressive display of abandoning backstory altogether, Sara (Natalie Dormer, Game of Thrones), our heroine, has a bad dream and takes a flight to Tokyo to find her sister, all within the first 30 seconds of the movie. Her sister, an identical twin named Jess (also Dormer), has been living in Tokyo and teaching as part of an effort to find herself. Now Jess is missing, and the last place she was seen is Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, also known as the “Suicide Forest.”
In all fairness The Forest is not a terrible movie. The setting is interesting and it is quite easy on the eyes with some great shots of Tokyo and Mount Fuji. Dormer gives a fully committed and credible performance (despite getting little to work with). It also features some admittedly unsettling scenes, including one in a cave that packs a decent jolt.
That being said, its insistence upon being so predictable and cliched prevent it from rising above mediocrity. Sara does every single idiotic thing imaginable, from ignoring advice to always staying on the path to running through dense woods at night (after ignoring Michi’s advice to never stay in the forest at night). This is why Eli Roth portrays all Americans as morons in his movies.
The movie also annoyingly portrays Japan as a strange, unfriendly place, as if all Americans should fear stepping foot in the country. A middle-aged man glares at Sara on a train, a homeless man pounds on her taxi window, and she gets seafood that’s still alive at a restaurant, all shot in a way to make Japan seem hostile and dangerous.
There’s also the fact that there is no one to root for or care about. Jess is barely even in the movie yet we know that she is a teacher with a troubled past. Other than the fact that she is married and has a sister, we know absolutely nothing about Sara. Calling her a thin character would be overstating it.
Finally, the requisite jump scares. They are present from start to finish. You know the drill by now. Everything gets very quiet. The lead walks slowly down a hallway. Then, suddenly, loud music blares as something/someone leaps out of nowhere. Rinse and repeat. This happens at least a half-dozen times.
Ultimately The Forest feels like something assembled at a factory. It’s professional enough, and technically it works OK, but it’s also totally perfunctory and homogenous. The bare minimum was done to generate the end result in an effort to make a quick buck before the next product rolls off the assembly line.
WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director(s): Jason Zada
Writer(s): Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai
Stars: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Rina Takasaki, Noriko Sakura, Yuho Yamashita, and James Owen
Release: January 8 (Wide)
Studio/Production Co: Gramercy Pictures/Lava Bear Films/AI Film
Budget: $10 million
Length: 95 minutes
Sub-Genre: Supernatural Horror