I am one of the easiest lays in the world for thriller and horror films. They can be high or low brow. They can be big budget or something made off a student’s camcorder. If the story is gripping and the acting solid (or at least heartfelt), I’m in. I don’t even need modern super-cool effects. I’d been looking forward to first-time feature director Jason Zada’s The Forest ever since I’d seen the first trailer and heard that Natalie Dormer would be starring and that Bear McCreary would be scoring. Sadly, it turns out to have committed the largest singular sin of horror films: it’s just dull.
How does one mess up the concept that Aokigahara, a forest in Japan is also nicknamed the Suicide Forest. Locals and tourists alike who are wanting to end it all will go into the woods and in the peace and quiet, end it all. It’s kind of like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, but with trees. When Sara’s (Dormer) twin sister Jess vanishes into the forest and disappears, Sara catches the first flight out and goes hunting for her. This is the kind of setup that should be easy as anything to wring some jump scares out of or a nice ominous menace. There’s nothing. A local guide trope comes into play to help monologue backstory about evil spirits of those who have died before. Again, another prime opportunity to try to deliver some kind of emotional engagement or setting the tone. Nope. When people in the theater are 45 minutes into a screening and checking their watches, you know it’s going to be rough.
This is the kind of project that makes me regret my general support of studios trying new talent (in this case Zada as well as one of the three credited writers, Sarah Cornwell). Perhaps they should spend some time as a script assistant, script doctor, or assistant director before jumping into the center seat. Dormer to her credit tries desperately to wring some kind of emotion out of the scenes, but they give her nothing to hang her hat on. The other characters appear and disappear into scenes all too blatantly as automated exposition devices or directional signs. They might as well be planted NPC’s in an MMO.
If you must watch it however and are a regular horror watcher, by all means play along with the drinking game. Every time you know what’s going to happen in the scene and turn out to to be right – take a drink. That way by the time the film gets really painful, you won’t feel it as much. The only scare of the night will likely wind up being the final bar tab.
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