|Image courtesy of Gramercy Pictures.|
At first, the picture does a pretty decent job of setting an eerie mood and tone and has Japan's famed suicide forest Aokigahara as a suitably creepy background. The movie doesn't waste much time with exposition or character as it jumps straight into its story.
As the film opens, a woman named Sara (Natalie Dormer, of "Game of Thrones") has a distressing dream about her troubled sister Jess (also played by Dormer) running through a secluded wooded area. Sara is the well-to-do sister, while Jess is the independent one, which is driven home in a sort-of unintentionally funny way by the fact that she has dark hair and mostly dresses in black.
Sara attempts to locate her sister, who is teaching in Tokyo, and finds out that she has headed to the notorious forest at the base of Mt. Fuji, which is ranked as one of the world's top spots for suicide. However, in "The Forest," we are told that these suicides are often prompted by the spirits of the dead who lurk in the woods and get a little backstory on how the infirm and elderly of centuries past were taken to die in Aokigahara.
So far, the film has done a decent enough job of creating a spooky atmosphere, but once we arrive in Japan, it's all downhill. First off, virtually every Japanese person who appears onscreen gives off a creepy vibe and nearly everyone Sara talks to appears to be well-versed in the undead - as if Japan were some backwoods, superstitious country as opposed to the technologically advanced, modern nation that it actually is.
Sara meets an American named Rob (Eoin Macken), a reporter who's interested in telling the story of her search for her sister. Neither his motivation for accompanying her to the forest, nor her willingness to let him report on her troubled family situation is particularly convincing. Worse, once we get to Aokigahara, Sara makes more poor decisions than any other horror movie character of recent memory and the filmmakers attempt to explain this away by the fact that the forest messes with your mind.
And even worse than that, "The Forest," which starts out by emphasizing atmosphere, devolves into one cheesy jump scare after another. There's one early in the film that genuinely caused people to jump out of their seats at the screening I attended, but that doesn't make it any less cheap. The jump scares, which are among the worst of horror's bag of tricks, get more egregious as the film goes on.
This is a pretty silly movie and not a particularly frightening one. It's easy to make people scream by throwing things at the camera, but it's more difficult to create tension through atmosphere, tone and location. Sadly, "The Forest" starts out by doing the latter before inexplicably reverting to the former.