Movie review of “The Forest”: These haunted Japanese woods aren’t as scary as they want to be. Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.
If I had an identical twin sister who was hopelessly lost in a vast Japanese wood near Mount Fuji known as the Suicide Forest, here are several things I would not do: 1) Arrive at said forest with my wheelie bag in tow, presumably ready to trundle it through the trails while calling my sister’s name. 2) Flirt with a weirdly surly guy named Aiden at my hotel, despite the fact that he’s practically wearing a T-shirt that says: “I Am Trouble, You Guys.” 3) Once in the forest, venture off the path — despite being told in sepulchral tones, by virtually everyone in the surrounding area, “DO NOT LEAVE THE PATH.” 4) Insist on staying overnight in the woods, in the presence of ghosts and, apparently, creepy schoolgirls, armed only with my magically never-needing-recharging iPhone for light.
Sara (Natalie Dormer of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” who also plays Sara’s twin, Jess) does all of these in the horror film “The Forest,” and things play out rather like you might expect. (Except for that ever-hardy iPhone, which really is uncanny.) Bodies turn up in the woods! Very Dark Secrets emerge from Sara’s past! Very weird production-design decisions are unveiled! (Why does the 20-something Sara’s childhood appear to have taken place a half-century ago?) Sara magically recovers from an injury, enabling her to run endlessly through the woods! Aiden (Taylor Kinney) might not be what he seems! Or perhaps he is?
By the time the credits roll, nothing makes much sense, which is typical for this sort of horror-movie potboiler — the film’s trio of screenwriters apparently couldn’t find a decent ending between them. The ever-game Dormer and that lovely green forest — which is, according to the press notes, played by a photogenic woodland in Serbia — deserve better. As, in this new year, do we.
Movie Review ★½
‘The Forest,’ with Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken. Directed by Jason Zada, from a screenplay by Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell and Nick Antosca. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images. Several theaters.