A woman goes into Japan’s Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror.
A quick history lesson for you, my fun loving readers. Background is important, especially when it comes to this particular film. So, the titular “forest” is called Aokigahara, a 35 square kilometre forest at the foot of Mount Fuji. The forest is also known as Suicide Forest (or the significantly less sexy Sea of Trees). Aokigahara earns its spooky reputation from, reportedly, being an extremely popular site for people to go and commit suicide. According to Wikipedia, 105 bodies were found in 2003. What you have here is a dense patch of forest where people go at their lowest, to be totally alone, and contemplate whether they want to end their lives. These are the “true events” that the movie boasts being based on.
From this alone, it’s probably not surprising that ghost stories, superstition, and mystery surround Aokighara, and it is even less surprising that horror film based on this forest has now been released. I want to be clear that I’m not put off by folk lore, or ghost stories at all, and it makes sense that a place that holds such a large amount of tragedy would spawn some genuinely frightening stories. Hell, it’s even a scary place all on it’s own.
So, with all of this history and potential, you would imagine that film makers would find local legends, local ghost stories, and mine from what must be deeply fertile territory. No, instead they made the story about white people, and chucked them into a cliched garbage fire of a horror movie. While I was wary from the moment I saw the first trailer, as it struck me as tone deaf and in particularly bad taste, I made my usual attempt to stay optimistic and hope that something good could come out of this.
I was wrong.
First on my long lists of disappointments was Natalie Dormer. I became quite fond of Dormer after seeing her as Moriarty in the TV series Elementary. When I realized it was her in this movie, it was the first glimmer of optimism that I had. Unfortunately for me, and for you, she’s really not given much to do in this movie. Despite her being the lead character, playing her own twin sister, and having most of the screen time, she’s such a bland presence all the way through. Her motivations don’t really make any sense, with the exception of wanting to save her sister, and she seems to succumb to the hallucinations of the forest almost immediately.
The other massive problems with this are the scares. There are maybe a handful of “scary” parts in the movie, and of them, almost 90% were the equivalent of someone jumping out and screaming “BOO!” while pulling a scary face. At one point, the scary face was about as spooky as the big scary face filter that Snapchat offers up around Halloween. There’s just something so lazy about it, especially when the movie does nothing to set any atmosphere or tone, and seems to assume that just the setting will make it spoopy enough to be memorable. Simply put, the movie is lazy and nothing else.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the film is that, despite being set in Japan (and hilariously filmed in Serbia, and Japan), the movies protagonists are white people. There is one Japanese character who offers more than a spooky face to the movie, the character is Aiden and Sara’s guide in the forest named Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) and he is present in the beginning and end of the movie, but vanishes through the bulk of it. There isn’t one Japanese character who really contributes to the plot, and that’s staggering and wildly stupid. There aren’t even subtitles in the film, an English speaking person immediately translates to Sara/the audience, so no additional effort needs to be exerted at all. It’s also implied, in the end, that the suicides in the woods are more the result of ghostly influence than of depression which diminishes the experiences had by those in the woods who chose to end their lives.
There is one effectively spooky scene in the movie, ONE. As Sara makes her way through the woods, whispers of “Turn around Sara” accompanied by a body that they had earlier cut down standing in the background, actually works pretty well and is the only memorable or even interesting moment in the film. It’s also mercifully short, which I always appreciate.
Couple the lazy scares with the incredibly weak writing and you’ve got the makings of a horror movie with nothing to offer. This is another one of those movies that shows a genuine disdain for its audience and seems to say “Eh, horror fans will watch only old shit”. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll keep saying it, demand more from your horror films, and expect to be taken seriously as a horror fan. This movie is lazy, and teeters close to being outright offensive. Skip.
MY RATING: **