The horror year of 2016 starts right off the bat with THE FOREST, the feature debut of director Jason Zada. This one was built up to quite a bit during the second half of 2015, with equal emphasis on the presence of Natalie Dormer (as twins Sarah and Jess) and the reality of the "suicide forest" located in the environs of Japan's Mount Fuji (ads begged us to Google the location to see for ourselves).
Unfortunately, I had a personal distraction that proved impossible to shake. Did you ever read YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (Ian Fleming's penultimate Bond novel bore scant resemblance to the movie)? Unquestionably the creepiest book in the entire series, YOLT gave us Blofeld in retirement from SPECTRE, content to live out his remaining days as Dr. Shatterhand, whose "suicide garden" proved quite the attraction for lost souls in Japan--those seeking to end their lives would wander the garden in breathless anticipation as to just what lethal plant or boiling mud pit would eventually do them in. Frankly, I found that concept a lot scarier than what turns up in THE FOREST, but Zada's film has its strengths all the same.
The film starts immediately with the info we already gleaned from the trailer... Sarah's sister Jess has gone missing in the suicide forest, but Sarah has that "twin" sensitivity that assures her beyond all doubt that Jess is still alive, and she's going to brave the forest in search of her no matter what anyone else tells her. By sheer determination (?) she's able to attract the attention and assistance of self-proclaimed Australian journalist Rob (Eoin Macken) who just happens to have access to an experienced Japanese guide who makes regular off-the-path trips in search of potential and actual suicide victims. Sarah is warned repeatedly that the spirits of the forest are going to use her own mind against her until she, too, becomes a victim, but tangible evidence of Jess's proximity decides her course of action and all that that entails...
THE FOREST offers at least one whomping good jump scare straight out of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and some good disorienting moments as popularized by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (wait... just which way is the river flowing?), but the most disturbing scene takes place on the safe path as a smiling visitor station attendant informs Sarah "Yes, we found her! She's downstairs! Follow me!" Ultimately, the combination of shock and subtlety results in a film that meanders until one grows restless waiting for the resolution... which DOES work.
Well-acted and attractively filmed, THE FOREST stands as a good try but falls short of total satisfaction.
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