By: Gary Murray
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken and Stephanie Vogt
Written by: Nick Antosca, Sara Cornell and Ben Ketia
Directed by: Jason Zada
Running time: 87 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating: Cable
Films slated in January are usually not the cream of the crop. It is cold and so far from a joyous holiday that keeps the audience away in droves. People seem just a little too busy to sit down and take in the newest from Tinsel Town. But the theaters have to have some type of product that is original. One does not expect much of a film in the post-Oscar push. The Forest fits that low expectation bill.
The story starts out with Sara (Natalie Dormer). She is shaken awake by something in her lower conscious. She senses that something is wrong with her twin sister Jess (also played by Natalie Dormer). Jess has been living in Japan to start a new life. Then, Sara finds that Jess has disappeared in a local Japanese forest. It is a forest known as a death forest, a place where people are killed by spirits.
Sara can feel that Jess is very much alive and Sara travels halfway around the world to look for her sister. She soon finds that no one will go into the dense underbrush to look for the young women. All the locals sense the sadness in Sara.
Eventually Sara meets an Australian man who decides to take her into the woods. They go into the forest with a local guide who looks for the dead who have committed suicide or may have died by the spirits. The guide seems afraid of the forest.
The three go off the path, something they were warned not to do. They stumble on to the campsite of Jess. Sara decides to stay at the site in case Jess returns. The guide warns her not to be in the forest after the sun goes down. Sara ignores the advice but her Aussie hunk decides to stay with the young lady. Then, strange happenings begin to appear in the night.
The film is very much a mixed bag. Parts of the film work and others do not. In the working column has to be Natalie Dormer. The actress is required to play twin sisters. She has to do a split screen with herself while being two distinct individuals. It is much harder to do than one would think and the young actress delivers it with an amazing strength. Not for an instant does anyone believe that they are the same person.
The problem is that the character she plays is not a likable one. As an audience, we never feel any empathy for the young woman and the struggle she has to partake. The more the film goes along, the more we want her dead. Main characters should be sympathetic ones and the way that Sara is written is not in that tradition.
Which brings us to the biggest problem with the film–it feels like it is melded from about half a dozen flicks from the 1990s Japanese horror flicks. And all of the former films are better than The Forest. In scene after scene, the audience kept feeling, “Didn’t we see that before?” When the audience senses that déjà vu, it is not a good sign. The three writers should have crafted something more original.
Another of the problems with the film is in the rating. A PG-13 film reeks of not being a successful horror flick. Everyone knows that the best of the modern era genre flicks are rated R. PG-13 means that there will be little blood and even less gore. Also, the writers fail to bring some true horror to the work. There are a few jolt scares but the final film is not horror but borders on horrible.
Director Jason Zada does a great job with his limited material. He captures the spookiest elements of thick green woods while still keeping it beautiful. His vision of this world borders on perfection but he just needed something better to work with and not the screenplay that he was handed.
To sum up, The Forest is one of those ‘check your brain at the box office’ kind of flicks. It is a disposable film, one meant to entertain and not do much more. In that idea, it is not a bad motion picture, just not a great one.