Ugh. January. The Monday of months. The time of year when seasonal affective disorder and Kevin Hart movies come together to unfortunately remind you that the window near your cubicle can’t be opened or smashed in any way no matter how hard you run into it.
It’s a time when movie theatres are filled with Shurfine-quality, generic, movie-like product. Cinematic equivalents to white noise that make you long for the more purposeful, slightly less generic, garbage of May and June. It’s a bad month. Essentially the carpet that Hollywood sweeps its most embarrassing mistakes under. In short, stay home. Why exactly would anyone venture out in the cold to watch “Kung Fu Panda 3?” “
Ride Along 2” can wait until the day when a mildly pleasant distraction is needed in the background as you perform mindless household chores. There’s a million very good reasons not to sit through “The Forest.” Some of which include, “It’s too wet out,” “I ate too many chicken wings and I fell asleep at the mall,” and “I was fired after I ran full force at the third floor window at my job.”
A good way to gauge how bad a horror movie will be as you’re watching it is to see how long it takes the film to resort to a jump-scare. In “The Forest” it takes the filmmakers a little less than two minutes before it resorts to one of these easy scare tactics. We’re not even out of the opening credits and already the soundtrack is exploding with the noise of something that could be 11 Merzbows crashing into 15 Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Musics but is merely just an elderly Asian man banging on the window of a taxi cab. It’s strange that “The Forest” is rushing out of the gate to scare us because for the rest of its 95 minute run time, it’s sort of just napping on the couch stirring on occasion to shine a flashlight under its face before it kind of shrugs its shoulders and goes back to sleep. In “The Forest” Natalie Dormer plays a vaguely unpleasant, definitely stupid woman — whose character isn’t developed much further than the fact that she has blonde hair and looks annoyed — ventures to Aokigahara Forest (aka The Suicide Forest) in order to track down her missing twin sister (Dormer, again. But in the kind of pseudo-goth drag that makes her resemble Elizabeth Olsen) which many have already presumed dead.
However, blonde Dormer insists that she shares a psychic link with vaguely goth-y Dormer causing original recipe Dormer to venture ever deeper within the kind of National Forest that not only is believed to be spooked up with all kinds of ghosties, but has a visitors center that doubles as a morgue. As the trailer for “Crimson Peak” once noted, “Ghosts are real(ly boring, apparently).”
Some indelible moments do emerge from the otherwise shrug-inducing “The Forest.” Toward the end, Dormer is terrorized by pale-faced monstrosities that are framed in such a way that you can never really get a good look at them. The inferred menace is effective and brings to mind the grotesque manga of Junji Ito. There’s also a borderline silly, but somewhat, inventive scene in which a gory flashback is unveiled through a vintage Viewmaster reel. Unfortunately these moments probably amount to less than 30 seconds of screen time. First time feature director Jason Zada attempts to infuse “The Forest” with a sense of mounting dread but can only suggest this through endless scenes of people hiking and occasional close-ups of elderly women wildly flailing their hands around.
Zada, also attempts to turn “The Forest” into a psychological thriller but seems to forget that he spent the first 30 minutes of the film having every single character remind Dormer, repeatedly, that she’s sad and sad people are tricked by evil Suicide Forest sprites into seeing things that aren’t really there. Why Zada bothers with ambiguity when he initially went out of his way to ensure this premise was as unambiguous as possible isn’t clear. Equally unclear is the film’s mild xenophobia which frames Japan as a weird, scary place where people laugh at you if you don’t want to eat food that’s still twitching after it’s been served. Terrible but in a bland way, “The Forest” is the kind of movie you’ll forget about the moment the closing credits start to roll.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt
Director: Jason Zada
Weekender Rating: W
Length: 95 min