Director: Jason Zada
Starring: Natalie Dorman, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Noriko Sakura, Eoin Macken
Written by: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwall and Ben Ketai
Running Time: 93 mins
Release date: 26th February 2016
If you go down to the woods today, you may be in for a bit of a bore. For The Forest, with all its good intentions, an agreeable leading lady and an interesting concept, this horror film lacks anything truly original and, quite frankly, just isn’t scary.
Sara, a twin, has the dreaded feeling that something terrible has happened to her sister while visiting Japan. Certain of her fate, she flies to the country to try to find her, as she has been missing for a few days. Sara is informed that Jess entered the notorious Suicide Forest, a place where people go to die and legend has it, is haunted with the souls of those who took their lives. Confident that Jess is still alive, she persuades an Australian reporter to help find her.
Making his feature debut, director Jason Zada has a reasonable idea on his hands but it just feels like with his lack of experience, he doesn’t know what to do with it, apart from what every other horror film does. So we follow Sara desperate journey to find her sister, being warned to stay on the path and told not to believe anything she sees. Yet we get all kinds of ghouls and ghosts throwing themselves at the screen in order to make us jump.
Woodland areas are always a reliable staple of horror films. The unsettling shadows, the trees looking like humans, the cracking of twigs under foot. All of these are used, along with a reporter we are never sure we should trust. Then, like an enlarged haunted house, the night brings a host of mysterious, decaying spirits which Sara runs around screaming from, yet never once making the audience feel any real sense of peril of chills.
As all the boxes are being ticked off, that air of familiarity just starts getting duller and duller, until by the time we’ve reached the predictable finale, we frankly don’t care. Which is a shame because it is well made and it does have an appealing lead in Natalie Dorman, from Game Of Thrones. In the dual roles of Sara and Jess (you can tell the difference because Jess has dark hair!) Dorman tries her best with the material and just about manages to carry the film, although you cannot help but think she deserves so much better.
The Forest isn’t a terrible film, it’s just not a very original one and so comes across as lazy. If the team behind it could have given it an interesting spin or shocks that didn’t rely on the “quiet, quiet, LOUD!” school of scares, this might have been a decent chiller. In a time where films like The Babadook, It Follows and the forthcoming The Witch are trying new approaches to horror, it seems a pity that some filmmakers still feel they need to play it safe.