The Forest felt like it squandered a lot of potential. It’s a movie that felt as if it really could have been scary if handled differently.
Natalie Dormer played twin sisters, a wild-child school teacher (Jess) who went missing from her teaching post in Japan and her more grounded and stable sister (Sara). Once Sara finds out that her sister was seen going into the infamous Aokigahara Forest, she wastes no time flying to Japan to find her. She meets up with a journalist named Aiden (played by Taylor Kinney) who introduces her to a guide (Michi) familiar with the forest.
The tone for the majority of the film felt more like a thriller than a supernatural horror. There was a lot of running around in foliage with the characters acting disproportionately afraid of the surroundings compared to lack of things to be afraid of. What few actual scares existed were often pulled solidly from American rehashes of Japanese horror. And of course Japanese schoolgirls abounded.
I’ve seen Natalie Dormer’s performance praised as the redeeming quality of The Forest, but I sadly feel compelled to disagree. While I’m usually a fan of her work, her performance was wooden and at no point did I ever believe she was playing two characters. There was regular Natalie and then Natalie with dyed black hair. Taylor Kinney as Aiden was the more memorable and compelling performance.
The ending was, ironically, the part I enjoyed most, since I often find that even good horror films often fail to stick the landing. There was a memorable and bittersweet twist that was by far the most successful part of The Forest.
For anyone curious about Aokigahara itself, there’s a Japanese documentary up on YouTube. I originally watched because I saw several people claiming that it was a much more respectful film about the subject matter, but in all honestly I’m a bit skeptical about how well it succeeded in that regard. It appears on Vice, a YouTube channel that’s big on documentaries with click-baity titles and intentionally sensationalist subject matter: