“The Forest” (2016): Well Intentions Get Lost in the Thick of it All

The first theatrical horror film of 2016 arrives with great promise as lead Natalie Dormer takes her character into the Aokigahara Forest to face the horrors of the suicide forest in Jason Zada’s directorial effort, The Forest. Unfortunately, the story  gets lost in its own script losing sight of the most interesting elements of its concepts, failing to rise above formula. Still, the film is suffered by its script alone. The direction from Zada is solid delivering some great atmosphere at times and setting up some fun little jump scares. Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney are far better then their dialog and motivations, giving the film some strong performances. The cinematography from Mattias Troelstrup is the true standout of The Forest, presenting the location in splendid landscapes and loving detail. The story never gels together in a rewarding narrative leaving horror fans unsatisfied, wanting more.

Natalie Dormer
Natalie Dormer begins her quest searching for her missing sister

Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) discovers that her twin sister Jess has wandered into the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Japan. This forest is known as the suicide forest and those who go missing in this forest are feared dead. Sara insists her sister is still alive, traveling to Japan to search for her. She locates a reporter, Aiden (Taylor Kinney), and a guide, Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), to take her into deep into the forest. Legend has it that the forest will make those with great sadness see horrible things that will result in their taking horrible actions, resulting in death. Against all odds, they locate Jess’ tent and decide to stay the night hoping she will return. For Sarah, however, the night brings nightmares and horror from her past that lead her on a desperate path that she may not survive.

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Stick to the path, Natalie Dormer decides to stray in search for her missing sister

The premise for The Forest is incredibly interesting, having its heroine desperately search for her twin sister lost in a haunted forest. The film leads its audience into this premise fairly quickly, setting up Sara’s determination and hinting as a hidden, horrifying past. It also sets up the rules and expectations of the supernatural edges of its story: the visions, the despair, the ghosts. Then is does something very odd. It never takes full advantage of these things, giving its audience something new and exciting to fill their nightmares and fears. It plays it safe, far too safe. This does not mean the movie is a disaster, it just makes it…mediocre. Which is a shame as it remains a better January horror offering regardless. But, it could have been so much more, which is sometimes far more disappointing.

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Sara, Aiden and Michi make a horrifying discovery

The Forest benefits greatly from a terrific performance from Natalie Dormer. She is great as Sara Price and her twin sister Jess. Her spiral into the unknown is convincing and emotional. She makes a great horror heroine and should be cast in future horror outings. She gives Sara a strong drive to locate her sister that keeps the audience invested in her journey, especially when the narrative slows to a crawl. She and her co-star Taylor Kinney make the most of the paranoia associated with the twisted visions the forest buries in their minds. Kinney is also very good as Aiden giving his character just enough of a shady aura to validate Sara’s confusion to his loyalties. Paired with them is Yukiyoshi Ozawa as Michi their guide into the forest. His is an important role as he is responsible for sharing much of the myth and dangers of the forest. His is convincing and heartfelt, especially when trying to convince Sara and Aiden to return with him instead of staying the night in the forest. His efforts lend a huge credibility to the danger they are in.

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Sara is haunted by the secrets of The Forest

While The Forest is never really frightening or out and out scary, it does have a few choice scenes of atmosphere and startling jump-scares. The idea of following a string or rope from the main trail into the forest to locate those that have fallen is a disturbing notion, especially the closer the camera gets to the final destination. The idea of those who have died return as angry ghosts raises goose-bumps as well. When Sara races through the forest with the dead standing in the thick of the trees, the visuals are effectively creepy. Unlike many successful haunted house films, however, the forest itself never achieves its own personality, it never becomes the character in the narrative a good ghost story requires. It is a fabulous and potentially frightening location, beautiful and foreboding. The film  needs more of the creep-factor and more of the ghosts.

Rina Takasaki
“Don’t trust him,” warns an unexpected visitor

January is rarely kind to horror films with its reputation as a “dumping ground” for unfavorable releases – something that needs to change. The Forest is far better then many films released during this season. However, it still does not manage to elevate itself above middling. The Forest never reaches beyond the expected making for a mediocre experience. That being said, it is also not necessarily a bad film. The direction from Jason Zada is well done, showing great promise for the director. Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney are terrific in their roles. The cinematography is sharp and beautiful. Unfortunately, the film lacks the scares horror fans crave. The film should do well to introduce teens and tweens to the genre but it may bore hard core horror fans.

The Forest (2016) 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Doc Rotten
Editor-In-Chief / Founder / Podcast Producer at Horror News Radio
Doc Rotten is the founder of Gruesome Magazine. He is also a film critic for Gruesome Magazine and the podcast host & producer for Horror News Radio, Monster Movie Podcast, Decades of Horror: 1970s, The American Horror Story Fan Podcast and Hannibal Fan Podcast. He is also co-host of the Dracula podcast on TV TALK and is a contributing reviewer for HorrorNews.Net and Widescreen Warrior.

Doc a lifelong fan of horror films, sci-fi flicks and monster movies first discovering Universal Monsters and Planet of the Apes as a young child in the 1970's searching out every issue of Famous Monster of Filmland (and, later, Fangoria). Favorite films include Jaws, The Car, The Birds, The Tingler, Vampire Circus and The Exorcist. Still a huge fan of horror films from the 70s, Doc continues consuming horror films to this day for the site, for the podcasts and for the fun of it all.