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The Forest is an American supernatural horror film directed by Jason Zada, starring Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney. Much of the story is set in and around the Aokigahara Forest in Japan, also known as the “Suicide Forest” or “Sea of Trees,” located at the northwest base of Mount Fuji. Sara Price (Dormer), an American woman, receives a call from Japanese authorities who are concerned that her troubled twin sister Jess is dead, having last been seen entering this forest. Despite the protests of her husband, Sara travels to Japan to search for her missing sister, whom she adamantly believes is still alive.

Though reception has been largely negative, I personally have mixed feelings about this film. I do agree that it is not particularly scary; there were a few moments that managed to startle me, and others that were decently creepy, but as a whole it’s not a good horror film in this respect. The reason for my mixed feelings is that I found it had some promising ideas that were unfortunately held back. Poor execution on good ideas still puts it out of favour, but it left me feeling more positive about the movie.

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A lot of the movie’s promise is due to the premise being a little more unique. The Aokigahara Forest is a very real place, where many people commit suicide every year. Sara’s motivation for going there is completely understandable, and the actors portray their characters with a gravity that is appropriate for the setting. Sara comes across as worn down and anxious, befitting her situation. She’s not exploring a creepy area for fun or to mess around — as is common in more run-of-the-mill horror — she’s searching for a loved one who may be in personal distress.

The schlocky horror elements of the film come across as a little insensitive, given that it’s a real place. In fact, a lot of the overplayed horror tropes feel like they interrupt an otherwise grave and eerie story. These interruptions occur too often, but much of the movie does take on a more somber tone that feels better suited.

This more somber tone also downplays the supernatural elements, potentially attributing them to Sara’s emotional state rather than influence from the forest itself. Her state of mind starts to appear to be worse than her sister’s, who is initially presented as the troubled one. This led me to believe that a lot of what we were seeing was in Sara’s head. Her growing mistrust of Aiden (Kinney) — a travel magazine writer who decides to help her — also started to make it unclear if the real threat otherworldly or human. Alone together in the forest, some clues started to surface that suggested he may have had something to do with Jess’s disappearance and has similar plans for Sara.

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Contrasted with the spiritual encounters, visions, and noises, events are made a lot more questionable. You’re uncertain of who to trust or what to believe, which is a terrifying idea. This film could have been, too. This is where I saw the most potential; the story could have been set up as supernatural, developed into a thriller, but maintained supernatural elements to keep you guessing. It did do this, just not nearly enough.

Ultimately, the film committed to the idea of the forest as a supernatural force that manipulates people. This is punctuated with an awful CG jump-scare right at the end that feels daftly out of place. This is the case with pretty much every jump-scare in the film, but had even this little tagged-on one been omitted I feel more of the clichéd moments could have been forgiven. The tone of the ending would have had a modicum of weight to it. Instead, things were left on a cynical, generic note.

The ending aside, the elements at work in the The Forest came together to produce something that I at least found interesting, though not particularly scary. This is hardly glowing praise, but considering the caliber one can expect from a horror film released in January I don’t think that’s too bad. It’s worth checking out, but also skippable.

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