When I first heard there was a horror film about Japan’s Suicide Forest coming out I was beyond excited. I was also nervous as hell. I’ve seen a couple films based on this topic before. One film explained the Suicide Forest with some sort of alien conspiracy. Yes, aliens. This bizarre mess of a film is Japanese. If Japan could destroy their own mythology, I was worried how badly America would butcher the legend of Aokigahara. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The Forest turned out to be far more thoughtful and subtly spooky than most theatrical American horror films. Is it perfect? Not by any means, but it’s a lot of fun.
The Forest follows Sara, (played by Natalie Dorner) a young woman who takes a journey to Japan to rescue her twin sister, Jess. Jess was last seen entering the Aokigahara Forest, a place known as a suicide hot spot. In the past, Sara has pulled Jess out of bad situations, and this time is no exception. She teams up with a guide, and sexy travel writer Aidan (Taylor Kinney). The three of them head into the forest, despite repeated warnings to stay away. Soon, Sara realizes that the forest is a place ruled by supernatural forces. She is forced to face both the spirits that haunt her past and those that haunt the forest.
One of my favorite aspects of The Forest is that it adheres to the stories surrounding Aokigahara. I’ve done a lot of research on this topic, and almost every creepy thing in the film can be traced back to known lore or credible facts. People have been known to become disoriented and lose their way in the forest. Search parties are disbatched into the woods to search for bodies on a regular basis. Ghosts or demons are said to drive people to commit suicide. All of this occurs in the film.
Another thing this film has going for it is the look and feel of the ghosts. I’m going to put it out there. I hate transparent ghosts. I like my ghosts to look more corporeal, or to never be shown at all. The ghosts/demons in The Forest are rarely shown, except from a distance. This adds to the mysterious nature of the place. In some cases they look like real people, except with hollowed out features. One featured ghost just appears as a regular girl until later in the film when she is revealed to be some sort of demon complete with fangs and crazy looking eyes.
Another factor in creating the eerie atmosphere of The Forest is the score by composer, Bear McCreary. Mcreary mixes the shrill whine of strings with primitive percussion sounds and the occasional wails of a choir. Every now and then some chanting in Japanese is tossed in for good measure. When blended all together the effect is moody and suits Sara’s feelings of isolation and paranoia.
The only thing I’m not crazy about in The Forest is the jump scares. I know that Hollywood horror films seem to require them, so there’s no point moaning about it. However, there are so many effective ways to creep out an audience and jump scares are just cheap. I can deal with a couple of them, but this film contains too many.
I should mention the actors. The performers who shine the most in this film are the minor Japanese characters, such as Yukiyoshi Ozawa who plays the guide, Michi. As for the stars, Natalie Dorner and Taylor Kinney, both are decent. I’m not a Game of Thrones fan, so I don’t know much about Dorner. She carried the film well, and she was able to play both twins in a way that made them seem like individuals, rather than one woman who just changes her hair color. I bought the idea that Sara was the rigid, resposible sister and Jess was the sensitive but troubled one.
Kinney’s performance is passable, but he wouldn’t have been my first choice. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there were times during the film, where his character didn’t quite seem like a real person. It may be because he looks a little too much like a male model, which is kind of an unfair but accurate judgement. It also may be because he was trying to make Aidan seem shady or dishonest. He never distracted me, or turned me off from the movie, but I can think of any number of actors I’d rather see playing his role.
The Forest is now available on DVD and streaming. If you enjoy films about slow creeping dread, Japanese ghost movies, or you’re intrigued by the Suicide Forest, I’d consider adding this one to your collection. It’s not a great flick, but it offers a unique ghost story, ripe with psychological twists and turns.
NOTE: The Forest is directed by Jason Zada, who co-wrote The Houses October Built. Many may remember that film for having an awesome premise, but terrible execution. In fairness to Zada, there are four writers credited on the IMDB page.