Starring: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Eoin Macken
Director: Jason Zada
In Japan, there is a vast forest covering the base of the famous Mount Fuji. Part of that impenetrable green is called Aokigahara, which means Sea Of Trees, and is a site where large numbers of Japanese go to commit suicide, with figures speculated to be up to 100 deaths per year, with the density of growth meaning bodies are often never found. In Japanese culture, killing yourself is more of an acceptable option than it is in the West, historically being considered a way of taking responsibility for problems rather than seen as a way out.
Documentaries on the phenomenon have captured Western imagination recently, with a few films based on the site and and what happens there, and one of the more succesful, from a storytelling perspective is this years chiller, The Forest.
Natalie Dormer, of Game of Thrones fame, plays two sisters, twins Sarah and Jess, whose parents died when they were 6 years old. The two are identical and very close, so when Jess goes missing from a teaching job in Japan, Sarah knows something is wrong and feels a call to go find her sister. But Jess was last seen entering the Suicide Forest, and authorities are treating her sisters absence as a suicide. Sarah knows her sister isn’t dead, and enlists the help of an American journalist and a local ranger to help her enter the forest and search.
As you can imagine, the forest is full of strange sounds and whispers, and although beautiful, leaving the path can mean being lost. But the locals all also believe that the spirits in the forest are not restful, and will play tricks with your mind. Because of this, you never really know what’s real and what isn’t. Aiden, the journalist (Kinney), is incredible, sometimes appearing like a friendly, outdoorsy guy, other times he has incredible hints of menace and darkness. Is he part of the forest? Does he know what happened to Jess? Or is he just a good guy who can see that Sarah needs help?
The whole film plays out like this, with incredibly creepy moments scattered throughout, and nothing really feeling quite right, til you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. The visuals are really stunning, and the whole film feels very eery. Perhaps the special effects are sometimes not super scary, but the film will make you jump and put you on edge. It’s a scary film, more because of the way it messes with you and the excellent performances than relying solely on gruesome imagery, though it does make good use of that too.
See It If: you’ve watched too many lame horror movies lately, this one is one of the best I’ve seen this year.