31 Screams in October, Vol. 3, #10: The Forest (2016)

Posted: October 10, 2016 in Movie Review
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10. The Forest (2016)

Director: Jason Zada

Starring: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoski Ozawa, Eoin Macken

Just to get this out of the way, I am aware of the fact that the Aokigahara Forest is indeed a real place, and that citizens of Japan have actually gone in there to commit suicide. It’s tragic on a level that I don’t think I can even comprehend. However, I also believe that a movie is just a movie. That is why the perceived insensitivities (of which “The Forest” has been accused by some) do not factor into whether or not I ended up enjoying it. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

In America, Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) receives a call from Japan informing her as to the disappearance of her identical twin sister, Jess… a schoolteacher… into the Aokigahara Forest. The police there believe that Jess has committed suicide, as this is basically the one and only reason why anyone ever goes into that forest. Against the advice of her fiance (Eoin Macken), Sara goes to Japan to look for her sister. At first, Sara finds it hard to convince anyone to help her, until she meets Aiden (Taylor Kinney) in the bar of the hotel where she is staying.

As they talk, Sara recalls the time her parents were killed in car accident just down the road from their house. As Sara tells her story to Aiden, flashbacks tell us a completely different narrative. What actually happened is that Sara and Jess’s father killed their mother and then himself with a shotgun. Sara also says that Jess witnessed their parents’ death but that she did not. This part of her story is true. It may also account for why Jess is the moodier of the two of them, her dark-haired gothic look distinguishing her from the blonde-haired Sara. First-time viewers may not guess right away, but this is the movie’s most important scene.

Sara is so bound and determined to find her sister alive that she goes about this whole expedition into the Aokigahara Forest rather carelessly. At every turn, she ignores the warnings of those more knowledgeable about the forest, including those from Sara and Aiden’s guide, Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). By the time they find Jess’s tent, it’s already getting dark. Michi suggests they leave a note and come back the next morning. Sara naturally refuses and elects to stay. Aiden decides to keep her company. Michi leaves them behind… a decision he will come to regret.

Among the warnings Sara received was the instruction to remain on the trail. To do otherwise would be a surefire path toward getting oneself lost. Of course, she strays from the path, albeit with the help of a not-so-friendly ghost who takes the form of a Japanese schoolgirl. Sara believes the “schoolgirl” may know where Jess is. The ghost warns Sara not to trust Aiden, though doesn’t say why. All it had to do was plant a seed of doubt in Sara’s already troubled mind. That’s the key: The forest preys upon the minds of those weakened by distress.

Sara begins distrusting Aiden almost immediately, spotting a picture of Jess on his phone. Sara then runs away, bcoming even more lost. The forest torments her further with voices. She tries to ignore them at first, but they seem to be growing closer. They get so close that she again runs away, falling into a cave and knocking herself unconscious. The “schoolgirl” is there to greet her when she wakes, revealing its true nature to her. Aiden appears with a rope to help Sara out of the cave, and all seems to be okay between the two. Aiden has even found an abandoned ranger station.

Just when things were looking up, Sara starts hearing a voice from the basement of the station, and someone on the other side passes her a note implying that it is Jess, and that Aiden has kidnapped her. Aiden tries but fails to convince Sara that this is not the case, and Sara kills him. Once that’s done, Sara realizes that everything (the picture of Jess on Aiden’s phone, the voice behind the basement door and the note) had all been illusions created by the forest.

Up to this point, Sara’s journey through the forest, she thought, had been all about finding Jess. What it becomes about is Sara learning to face the truth of things. It is achieved symbolically when she walks into the basement of the ranger station to find herself in her childhood home on the day of her parents’ deaths. Reliving the family tragedy through Jess’s point of view, Sara finally sees for herself the murder-suicide. Sara next faces a more cruel twist of fate. Sara is grabbed by her father’s ghost and uses a knife to cut away at his fingers to allow her to escape. Thinking that she has then found her sister and is trailing behind her as Jess runs toward the lights of the search party, Sara must face the reality that she has just cut into her own wrist and is bleeding to death. As life leaves Sara, Jess really has been located by the search party, who was there to track down her sister. It seems the forest was willing to give up its hold on one of the sisters, but not both.

Like “The Boy” (which was released a mere two weeks later), “The Forest” is another PG-13 rated horror film which drew criticism based on that fact. As I indicated above, it has also been accused of being insensitive towards Japanese culture, and to suicide victims in general. The only thing that “The Forest” should be accused of is not being particularly scary. To be quite honest, the only surprise the film offers was in that pivotal scene where we learned the fate of Sara’s parents.

Other than that, the best thing that “The Forest” has to offer is Natalie Dormer. Already familiar with her work thanks to Showtime’s “The Tudors” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” I knew before I even pressed PLAY that I would enjoy the movie based on her involvement. If you’re a fan of hers like I am, then you’ll probably have the same inclination. I question whether I would have sought the movie out otherwise. It’s fun, never boring, but the plot is for the most part shockingly easy to predict. Chalk this up as a lukewarm recommendation.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    One has to wonder about the surviving sister. Will Jess now be too overcome with remorse to live? will she return to the forest one day, commit suicide there or somewhere else, or go to therapy and lead a half way normal life? But heaven forbid a sequel, right?

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