The Forest, 2016

© Icon Film Distribution

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree If mankind perished utterly, and Spring herself, when she woke at dawn would scarcely know that we were gone.

Sara Teasdale

There is a scene during the first half-hour of the film that made me think that the writers did not work too much on the script until about the film was almost over. 

Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) travels to Japan to look for her twin sister Jess who has gone missing a few days earlier and the Japanese authorities claim that she was last seen entering the forbidden Aokigahara (Sea of Trees) Forest. Not just that, the Japanese official on the other end of the line also says that she left the path and wandered off on her own into hostile territory. Ironic, since the film hardly enters the frightening zone. And had she strayed more from the generic path, the film just might have had the required genuine depth and darkness, but that doesn’t happen, the filmmakers fail to make the most of its self-admiration; since director Jason Zada (Take This Lollipop, 2011) had decided for his film to be self-aware and extremely conscious of itself and the decisions that the characters make, by way of the script, by three people (and yet they couldn’t get a decent scare out of its audience), Ben KetaiNick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell. It could also be the fact that this is Yukiyoshi Ozawa‘s (Michi) first film out of his homeland, Japan, or the fact that The Forest is being beaten for its racial insensitivities, trivializing suicide (as if films with mental illnesses – Daniel Isn’t Real, 2019 – are made to raise awareness, sure) and making a bait out of GOT’s Natalie Dormer and the change of hair color.

What the fuck could be so damn hostile about a forest, at the base of Mount Fuji? A forest fondly known as the ‘Sea of Trees‘ because of its dense vegetation, the trees in the wind and the mist and the rivers all look as if the forest is one big sea running at the foot of the majestic Fuji. However, that is if you look at the Aokigahara from the mountain top. Once you descend and actually enter the forest it becomes extremely difficult to navigate the gravelly path through the broad grove of trees and corpses.
Yup, corpses. For you see the forest is infamous for the suicides that people commit there. They simply walk off the path ignoring the signs and jump over the “Do Not Enter” barricade tapes only to slit their wrists or hang themselves or whatever a man, woman, or child on the edge would fancy. Legend also has it that once inside it becomes near impossible for the forester to get out and into civilization. Once inside, the Aokigahara becomesThe Suicide Forest.” 

Sara immediately leaves for Japan and takes a train from Tokyo’s Narita Airport, and straight to the Aokigahara. She stops at a tourist lodging facility and shows a picture of her missing sister to the lady at the counter who nods and says, “Your sister here. Follow me” and then in response to Sara’s threadbare inquiry, the Japanese woman responds, “It is basement“.

This was the scene I referred to earlier. What we discover a few minutes later is a morgue where Sara is led to. The local woman is there to help Sara identify one of the bodies as her sister’s. Well, here we are then. The local woman is positioned at the head of the corpse covered by a sheet and Sara is standing a few feet away. Just keep in mind she is here to identify the body of a relative and not to buy Japanese underwear. We hear some voices coming down from the reception area and just when the local lady is about to lift the sheet off the face she stops and says, “I go check upstairs.” And then she leaves Sara with the corpse out of the body refrigerator.

Really? Yes, I understand it was to fill the screen with a subtle and then a not so subtle scare but fails miserably at scaring anyone except the edgy Sara. Why would the local lady leave at such a time? How would Sara, who just traveled six thousand miles from an American city straight to the haunted forest, without a break, let the lady leave before she revealed the cadaver to her? 

The rest of the film is equally droll and extremely predictable in its insensitivity and lets the mystery man remain such until the end.

Jess is not here.

The end, however, all fifteen to twenty minutes of it are appealing, even perhaps gripping with the sudden change of tone and flashbacks and a view-master that shows Sara what she had not seen before, by chance. If not for the relatively delightful end the film is nothing special. Heck, even with the engaging conclusion, The Forest does not manage to scare or even make the viewer uncomfortable, even when trail-guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) is laying the facts down before Sara and this one other gent, while they cut the rope and bring a hanging man down.

Right now I’m thinking of rewatching Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse, 2018 , a German horror film (it transcends generic horror and becomes warped and disfigured into something very dangerous and awfully threatening) written and directed by Lukas Feigelfeld; and get scared some. I just read a review where the writer has written: “(I feel like I’m) watching something which shouldn’t be seen”. Well, I’ve seen it twice already, and I tend to agree.

I’ll go now and get scared for real. This (Forest) didn’t do too much for this pilgrim except let unlikely psychological contortions parts feed into the brain and to no avail. Everyone knows by now that The Forest is bad (the place and the film) and also tediously familiar and when old people cannot be taken care of anymore, legend has it that they are taken there to be abandoned, like a domestic animal that can’t be taken care of anymore – it’s a Western culture thing, happening in Japan. It doesn’t do shit but it kills time and if it were left to me I’d fucking dirty bomb time itself because “Time Destroys Everything”.

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