The Cinefessions crew loves sharing their opinions on films, but not every movie can get the attention it deserves with a full review. Enter the Cinefessions’ Capsule Reviews. These capsule reviews cover five of the most important aspects of a film, which allow the crew to deliver their opinions on any movie clearly, decisively, and with brevity. These are not our full thoughts on any film, just a highlighting of the major pros and/or cons.
I absolutely love Japanese and Korean horror flicks. They have this creep factor to them that gorefest, American horror films often lack. My love affair with them started way back with Ringu and the American adaptation of The Ring, and continued with a healthy dose of imports and remakes, plus a steady stream of them on Netflix over the years. They’re usually the kind I can sit and watch with my wife, as she prefers supernatural horror to slashers, and things are rarely normal in Japanese and Korean horror. While The Forest is an American production, the setting, and the way the film plays out, is more like an homage, or a comfortable glove, that makes it play out far more like the Japanese horror counterpart to the Hollywood one.
Story & Script
The film follows Sara Price, an American woman who gets a phone call from the Japanese police who believe that her twin sister, Jess, has committed suicide after going into the Aokigahara Forest alone. The forest is near Mount Fuji in Japan but is known as the Suicide Forest, as that’s where many people walk in alone to kill themselves. Sara has a tie to her twin, and while Jess has had issues in the past, Sara is convinced she’s still alive, and flies to Japan to investigate her disappearance. She visits Jess’ school, talking to a student and the teachers there, and then heads for the forest. Sara meets up with Aiden, another visitor. Aiden is a reporter who knows a guide that goes through the forest looking for bodies, and tries to talk people down that he finds.
The guide, Michi, reluctantly agrees to let Sara come along with him and Aiden, but warns her that she shouldn’t come as the forest tends to get to people with sadness in them. Things go sideways when they find Jess’ tent but no sign of her, and Sara and Aiden decide to spend the night in the forest, which Michi is firmly against. That’s when the forest really starts to get to Sara and things get a bit rough. The story itself is pretty basic, but with what they’re doing with it, and the way it plays out, it just flat out works. There are some of the familiar beats, but a number of situations don’t work out the way you think, and they really play up the fact that Sara doesn’t know what she’s seeing, and if it’s real or not, and the audience experiences that with her.
A lot of this film only really works because of Natalie Dormer, who is absolutely fantastic. She pulls double duty as both Sara and Jess in this, and although Jess is relegated mainly to flashbacks, it’s great seeing them play off each other. She does a great job getting the audience into it as she slowly loses herself in what the forest is showing her, and if she hadn’t been as good with the role, the film would have suffered. Taylor Kinney plays Aiden pretty well and manages to pull off both sides of the role of Aiden so that the audience can further buy into what Sara’s going through. The film really revolves around these two, although I have to admit the Japanese actors they got for the supernatural elements, and Yukiyoshi Ozawa as Michi, helped this work just as much as Dormer and Kinney.
Jason Zada manages to work in lots of nice details into The Forest. There are some great shots, and while they didn’t film in the forest it’s set in (not allowed by the Japanese government), the stand-in they used is milked for all it’s worth, both for its beauty, and for its haunting look. Most of the building tension in this works because of what they do with the setting, and coupling it with Sara’s slowly losing it to the forest’s supernatural elements and Jason makes it work really well together.
While I really liked most of the subtle work they did building up the dread and working in the backstory for Sara and Jess, there were a few moments I thought they could have done more with to add to it. That being said, as a kind of homage, or in the style of the J-horror films that came before it, this pulls that slow build off just about perfectly.
I would gladly sit and watch this again, and that has almost nothing to do with the fact that I love Natalie Dormer. The film hits all the notes I like in this kind of horror flick, the acting is pretty good, and I’m a sucker for a good supernatural horror flick. There are a number of details I’ll definitely pay more attention to on another viewing.
While I went in not expecting a whole lot out of The Forest as it wasn’t getting a lot of buzz, this managed to do enough to suck me into it for its entire runtime, and really did an amazing job using a limited number of actors to pull of something extremely creepy. The cast is great, and although it’s not actually a Japanese horror flick, it manages to feel almost exactly like one, especially with the way things develop towards the end, and I loved it.