Don’t Go Into ‘The Forest’ (FILM REVIEW)

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In an effort to kick 2016 off in a positive direction, I’m choosing to look at things on the good side. Which is why I’m not too angry that The Forest was such a waste of my time. Normally, I might be upset when forced to endure a movie of such incomprehensible badness, and I might bemoan the state of both Hollywood and the genre of horror. While the film certainly does inspire the desire to engage in that sort of scathing rant, my efforts to maintain a sunny disposition compel me to see things under a different light. Make no mistake about it, The Forest is, in every conceivable way, an awful movie. In fact, it might just be the worst movie of 2016. Which is precisely where I am able to find hope.

The Forest is so bad that I cannot possibly imagine having to sit through anything worse for the remainder of this year. No matter how terrible a film might be between now and the dawning of 2017, I’ll be forced to remind myself that it wasn’t as bad as this one. Whatever mindless drivel gets forced upon me for the entirety of 2016, it will still most likely be a step up this piece of garbage. It can only go up from here, and I can’t help but consider that a slice of good news.

Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) is completely wasted as Sara Price, a woman who journeys to Japan to search for her twin sister Jess after she is lost in Aokigahara Forest, a place dubbed “the suicide forest” due to the high number of suicides performed there each year. While the authorities in Japan are hesitant to assist Sara in her search, due to the fact that people who get lost in Aokigahara tend to meet with self-destructive ends, she pushes on to find her sister. You see, since they’re twins, Sara just knows that Jess is still alive. Along the way, she meets photojournalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who agrees to escort Sara into the woods, despite the local legends detailing the vengeful and angry spirits that inhabit them.

I’m doing my best here to not be boring, but I haven’t really been given much to work with. The Forest feels unbearably longer than its 90 minutes might suggest, dragging and plodding its way through a first and second act that could cure even the worst insomnia. Along the way, we’re occasionally given lame jump scares that, for the most part, are actually just weird Japanese people creeping out our poor, lily white heroine. A homeless man pounds on a window; a specter in a darkened hallway is actually just grandma; the noise in the woods is lost school girl; so forth, et cetera.

Director Jason Zada tries, and fails, to inject an atmosphere of lingering dread throughout his feature length debut, framing shots with all of the gusto of a couple of kids making their “monster movie” with their brand new GoPro. His attempts to capture the oppressive forest—which, by the way, is a real place that depressed people go to end their lives—mostly fall flat and result in little more than seeing yet another pretty girl running helplessly through a darkened wood in yet another horror movie. It’s a cliché that’s so cliché that calling it a cliché is, in fact, a cliché, but here we are. It also serves as the perfect metaphor for the movie itself: as a member of the audience I, too, was running around screaming and searching for a way out.

Which is too bad because thematically there’s actually a lot to work with here. The Forest very nearly toys with becoming a metaphor for depression and mental illness. Some might argue they succeeded in that endeavor, but the text and subtext never quite lends enough weight to the concept to warrant that assessment. I kept waiting for the movie to turn fully in that direction, hopeful that Zada and screenwriters Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai would dive head first into their attempted metaphor, but it never happens. Any time the chance presents itself, we’re instead delivered a hapless cop out or on the nose bludgeoning.

While I’m sure that Dormer will be a draw for many Game of Thrones fans, who’ve rightfully grown fond of the actress due to her powerhouse performance as Margaery, not even she can save the day here. When she’s not crawling through dark foliage lit only by a cell phone that has the most impressive battery life of any cellphone I’ve ever seen, she mostly just wanders around looking suspiciously as though she’s not even sure why she agreed to be in this movie in the first place, or that she was told the movie was about one thing only to find out it’s about nothing at all.

I guess in that way, it almost does kind of succeed in being a metaphor for depression. The Forest is completely empty and hollow, going through the motions of having meaning in order to mask the internal nothingness it actually contains. If you or someone you love has ever gone through depression, then you know exactly the feeling I’m talking about. That’s what The Forest is, only it’s completely unintentional. It’s an insipid bore that constantly spins its wheels without ever gaining traction, and fails on every level.

The Forest is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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