There is something deeply unsettling about The Forest – a tangible sense of unease that pervades the cerebral cortex, difficult to pin down but nonetheless there, gnawing at the nerves, evasive and invasive. One certainly hopes to expect an emotional response to a supernatural horror flick, and indeed all the constituent parts are here: skilled leading star, suitably creepy locale, theoretically interesting premise. In this case however, any psychological disquiet is not the result of the film’s own acuity or guile, but an ever-increasing feeling of being subtly manipulated, of being led gently by the hand into an undergrowth of sanitised, mass-produced jump scares and manufactured human experience. This might well be the cinematic equivalent of being groomed.
Having previously cut his teeth on social media ad campaigns and a couple of short films, marketer-turned-movie-director Jason Zada has made a feature-length debut that is quite remarkably amateurish – misjudged horror that lurches from tired misconception to borderline insult. Indeed, it is difficult to decide for whom the film holds more contempt: Japanese cultural custom and folklore, or its audience. It doesn’t matter particularly, as the rehashed exteriors of neon Tokyo (lifted almost shot for shot from Lost in Translation) and shrieking Japanese women in the hurried opening frames set a tone of formulaic ignorance that remains throughout.
We follow Sarah (Natalie Dormer) to Japan in search of her sister Jess (also Dormer), because her psychic twin senses have told her she’s in trouble. Jess, made up in black eyeliner and teenage sulk (just so we know how she totally represents the other side of the coin to the straight-laced Sarah), has ventured into the eponymous Aokigahara forest, a strip of land in the foothills of Mount Fuji where people go to commit suicide. Sarah enlists the help of slimy pick-up artist Aiden (but who cares cos he’s, like, sooooo hot), played by a leering Taylor Kinney, and his friend Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), who apparently moonlights as a dodgy guide through the “suicide forest”. The triumvirate commences, and obligatory spooky goings-on poorly ensue.
As with Gus Van Sant’s recent Cannes catastrophe Sea of Trees (another name for Aokigahara), The Forest misses just about every mark it tries for, while simultaneously treating its audience like bleating cattle unworthy of abstract thought or conception. Every detail and idea is a repeat of a superior forbear, spoon-fed to a skin-crawling degree of disdain. Whatever The Forest’s intentions, this may truly mark the birth of idiocracy.
The Forest is released on 26th February 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Forest here: