Director Jason Zada Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney UK Release Date Out Now
One of my most anticipated moments of GFF this year was seeing Natalie Dormer’s debut role in one of the horror movies in the Fright Fest program; more specifically, not in a film or TV series set in an imagined past or dystopian future.
Now I’ve seen it, all I can say is: oh dear.
‘Around 30%’ of press given passes to attend Fright Fest events are women, giving what most would agree is a pretty male-skewed impression of the films being shown. However I would have been happy to let the men take this one for the team, had I have known what was to come. THE FOREST was one of the only films on the Fright Fest line up open to all press and public (the others required specific passes). A last minute cancellation from Natalie, who was scheduled to attend the UK Premiere, meant the film opened with an already deflated feeling, which continued to grow and grow until the entire auditorium featured slumped empty crisp packets of people.
Apart from anything else that it is, THE FOREST is another badly thought through example of Orientalism – a take on Asian myth through the Western lens. Most of the horror takes place in the Aokigahara Forest in Japan: a place haunted by the troubled ghosts of people who have gone there to commit suicide. Dormer stars as Sarah, who sets out on a mission to trawl through the suicide-inducing undergrowth looking for her twin sister Jess (last seen walking off-piste there). The locals suspect she’s dead, but Sarah knows otherwise: if she was, she’d be able to sense it.
Already tormented by her childhood with Jess, which we see snippets of in regular flashbacks and hallucinations, Sarah predictably finds herself tangled in the manipulating powers of the infamous suicide forest. Various men attempt to guide and help her (a pectoral-throbbing Taylor Kinney as the mysterious Aiden and experienced and steady-handed, partially traumatised guide Michi played by Yukiyoshi Ozawa), but her primal instinct is to shake them off and delve alone into the labyrinth of her past in order to rescue her sister.
The B movie horror is one of my most beloved genres and I always gravitate to films of this sort for comfort and a purely tactile experience. I want nothing from it other than pleasure. But that does not mean that thought processes shouldn’t feature at all; if they don’t, you end up laughing at it instead of with it. THE FOREST lacks any sort of visual direction: instead of trying to link Sarah’s trauma with the physicality of the forest, the two central narrative elements jar each other limply and annoyingly, as if they regard each other as too ridiculous to be taken seriously. And as a viewer, it was impossible to take any of it seriously.
But the unintentional moments of comedy (much of what is intended to by eerie is just bizarre) provide needed relief in a film that had so much potential but, alas, has that written-in-15-minutes feel. Save for a few CGI jump scares and splashes of visceral violence, THE FOREST made me feel so little other than incredulity. Even within the premise of its genre, it fails to suspend reality even a little bit – quite a feat for a B movie horror!
The Final Word: Dormer deserves a better crack at parts that don’t require her to wear a corset or shave her head.