Unenterprising, Japan-set horror starring Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney
Natalie Dormer stars in this cliché-ridden psychological horror set in Japan’s notorious Aokigahara forest but shot in Serbia, that aims for creepy and atmospheric and instead degenerates into po-faced stupidity. In Japanese mythology the forest is a place where angry spirits roam while, modern day, it’s become a popular spot for lost souls to commit suicide.
When Sara (Dormer) receives a worrying phone call that her twin sister Jess (Dormer again) has disappeared in the Aokigahara she heads out to Japan to locate her, but in doing so she has to face her own mortality and some repressed inner demons. Local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) and suspicious reporter Aiden (Taylor Kinney) are on hand to help in her quest.
Don’t be surprised if you start having flashbacks to the worst parts of JJ Abrams’ Lost that you’ve long been harbouring at the back of your mind ever since that disappointing ending, as The Forest relies on silly twists rather than any truly frightening material. Spooky Japanese schoolgirls and gnarled old women litter the corridors and pathways that Sara traverses and, though none of this is all that scary, the prosthetic makeup effects are at least decent and there is a live sushi sequence early on that’s effectively slimy. A tent scene recalls a set-up to an extremely suspenseful moment in Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek, but doesn’t have the courage to cultivate similarly nail-biting terror. In fact, the entire film hastens through any horrifying potential, when it should instead be biding its sweet time.
Directed by debut helmer Jason Zada, the real star of this project is cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup, whose elegant city shots of nighttime Tokyo in the rain and of babbling brooks flanked by lush greenery make The Forest consistently pleasing to look at, even if the story that supports it is wholly contrived. Audiences will certainly want to think twice before entering these woods, but mainly because we’ve seen it all before.
General release from Fri 26 Feb.