- on Friday, 08 January 2016 15:43
- by Frank Wilkins
Oddly, Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, exceedingly dense with a tangle of trees, plants and exotic vegetation, is virtually void of any wildlife, making it eerily still and quiet.
However, this peacefulness masks a more macabre side as it is statistically the number one site for Japanese to commit suicide. In 2003 – the last year official records were published – more than 100 people ended their lives in the forest, most in March, right after the end of the Japanese fiscal year. Abound with such agony, despair, and hopelessness, it’s difficult to understand why the forest is such a popular tourist destination, but there’s no wonder why local legend has it that the Aokigahara is a haven for lost souls.
The ominous forest and its tormented souls are at the center of first-time director Jason Zada’s supernatural thriller, The Forest that takes its inspiration from the real-life “Sea of Trees” located at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji. It’s just too bad Zada’s tale isn’t as intriguing as his topic-rich setting. What should be a slam dunk, instead turns into an embarrassingly dreadful mess of a movie that is neither fun nor stirring, and certainly isn’t very scary.
When Sara (Natalie Dormer) gets word that her troubled identical twin Jess (also played by Dormer), has mysteriously disappeared while visiting the Aokigahara forest, Sara makes the 6,000 mile journey to find her sister despite all the warnings that few who visit the forest ever return.
The locals hate the place (can you imagine the constant flow of curiosity seekers and lookie-loos?) and typically don’t go anywhere near it or its signs in the parking lot that remind people (both in English and Japanese) to think of their parents, siblings and children before entering. But soon after arriving, Sara meets an obnoxiously handsome, yet overtly suspicious, man named Aiden (Chicago Fire’s Taylor Kennedy) who not only volunteers to take her into the forest, but also wants to write an article about her journey.
The next day, Sara and Aiden hook up with local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) and off they go into the woods. A scene about the importance of heeding the dire warnings of never stepping foot off the path is followed by a shot of the trio stepping over a chain that marks the edge of the path. Game on, right? Nope.
Much of the remainder of the film’s runtime is filled with Sara and company trudging aimlessly through the forest, sometimes running, sometimes lost, but occasionally stopping to find out where those creepy whispering noises are coming from. Naturally, Sara falls down a lot (once, badly gashing her hand), but Aiden, being the gallant man he is, is always there to help her up. They get lost, they walk around some more, noisy things jump out at them, they fall down some more and eventually end up in a creepy old abandoned cabin. Game on now, right? Nope.
Not even a cabin in the woods is handled to great effect as nothing from here on out is either original or particularly thrilling. Sara is told that the voices in her head and the fleeting glimpses of apparitions are actually figments of our own sadness. As she gets deeper into the forest, Sara is more deeply infected by her own darkness - that’s the main conceit here. Smart stuff, huh? An occasionally visited flashback is supposed to add a secondary level to Sara’s inner torment, but it doesn’t really make any sense nor is it completely fleshed out.
The real Aokigahara Forest, with its deeply hidden secrets, vine-covered bodies, and brightly colored strings often left behind to lead police and searchers to the dead, deserves an equally intriguing tale. So do the people whose souls are supposedly held in a prison for restless spirits. Sadly, this isn’t it.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images
Runtime: 95 mins
Director: Jason Zada
Writer: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt
Tagline: Everyone comes here looking for a way out
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm not leaving without my sister."
Distributor: Gramercy Pictures
Official Site: http://theforestisreal.com/
Release Date: January 8, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: While searching for her missing sister, a young American encounters tormented spirits in a mysterious Japanese forest.
No details available.