It’s nice that Universal Studios is still involved with the horror genre. After all, it’s the Hollywood studio built on the back of the classic movie monsters. So while most of the big studios ignore horror because they feel like they are above it, good ol’ Universal keeps coming back. In the wake of Paranormal Activity’s tremendous success with Paramount, Universal has even started picking up indie horror flicks like The Forest again. This is also a nice thing. After all, most of the great horror franchises of the 80s began as indie products that were purchased by the studios and cultivated into franchises. All of which is a long way of saying that there are positive aspects to the existence and release of The Forest. Unfortunately the movie itself isn’t one of them, but at least there are some positives.Based loosely around the Aokigahara forest in Japan that is notorious for swallowing up suicides, Jason Zada’s film even has a creepy setting. One that’s been exploited for a few crappy indie horror flicks already. It would be nice to say that
Based loosely around the Aokigahara forest in Japan that is notorious for swallowing up suicides, Jason Zada’s film even has a creepy setting. One that’s been exploited for a few crappy indie horror flicks already. It would be nice to say that The Forest is the best of the bunch, but it’s not. It’s merely the biggest. Game Of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer stars as a young woman who travels to that forest after the disappearance of her sister (also played by Dormer). She doesn’t know about the legends surrounding the haunted grounds, so she’s told by a number of local Japanese actors whose grasp on the English language isn’t the greatest. She encounters a number of people warning her not to stay in the forest after dark, including a pretty boy would-be love interest (Eoin Macken) who eventually agrees to accompany her into the woods after dark anyways. So, not a great thing to do in a haunted forest, especially one that plays with the perceptions of those who dare to enter. You can probably guess where things go from there and you’re probably right too.
Yep, it’s pretty standard ghostly film fare. More specifically, it’s pretty standard Americanized J-horror ghostly film fare. That’s right. That trend from a decade ago of American filmmakers telling Japanese ghost stories is mysteriously back and no better than it was before. One of the first people that Dormer encounters within the haunted forest is a Japanese schoolgirl with an unsettling smile. She doesn’t react in instant horror because apparently she didn’t see one of the onslaught of similar movies that came out after The Ring. Director Jason Zada and co. also don’t give the audience the benefit of the doubt that they’ve seen this all before either. So despite an evocative setting, the movie just goes through the J-horror motions with no real surprises. Just a lot of pregnant pauses and long waits before a ghostly jump scare. You know, the cheap gags that people who don’t like horror movies find classy merely because there’s no blood involved.
And boy oh boy does Zada ever take his time setting up this mediocre scare factory. Following a few fake scares in the opening minutes, he doesn’t even bother to tease the audience for what feels like an hour (but is probably a little less). Characters discuss the possibility of at one point being scared and the potential of the forest for ages without the audience getting the good stuff. The filmmakers might have gotten away with that had the drama been intriguing or the mystery intense. But nope, it’s all rather tedious, poorly acted, and obvious. There’s no sense of tension simmering to a boiling point, just a lot of screentime being wasted because the meagre production couldn’t afford many scares or effects. Admittedly, once the ghostly shenanigans finally arrive, there are a couple of creepy moments. Not many, but a few and they were all slickly produced enough that it’s easy to see why Universal picked up the project for release.
The Forest isn’t a tiny movie that desperately needed attention like the underrated Unfriended that Universal slipped out last year. Nope, it was a competent indie production featuring a somewhat recognizable lead actress that fit into the studio’s release schedule. The Forest only got a wide release because it looked professional and came along at the right time. There are dozens and dozens of mediocre-to-crappy genre efforts like this produced every year that slip immediately into streaming obscurity. The Forest should have gotten a similar fate, but somehow it ended up with a wide release instead. So now the movie has an expensive marketing campaign to make it seem scary and special. It’s neither of those things. Don’t fall for the trap. You could easily find a stack of ho-hum horror flicks as good as this on Netflix. Or…you know…you could also find a good horror movie. Like Universal should have done. Ah well. Maybe next time.