A woman goes into Japan’s infamous suicide forest to find her suicidal twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror of the ghosts that haunt the forest.
Amelia: Aokigahara. The thirty-five square kilometre forest at the base of Mount Fuji. The sea of trees. The suicide forest. People go in and don’t come out again. Angry ghosts are said to roam and those that go into the forest are warned to stay on the path. The Forest explores what happens when you encounter these ghosts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do it as well as it thinks it does. It doesn’t do it even half as well as it thinks it does. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to do it even half as well as it thinks it does!
Billy: I didn’t just dislike this movie, I was actively offended by it. It’s the definition of big budget horror that defines itself by that big budget and nothing else. It’s bland, doesn’t surprise you, and gives in to all the horror tropes you’ve come to expect. From the cinematography to the script, there was just nothing new here to explore. At one point, Sara describes the death of her parents as a car accident, while a flashback shows us it was actually a murder/suicide. I really thought this was going to be explored more in depth, the dichotomy of her false memories or what she saw versus what she remembers. To my surprise, it really wasn’t, and it was pretty much only there as set dressing because suicide is fun, right? Spoopy times!
Amelia: Aokigahara is an eerie place even if you don’t believe in spirits. The trees twist and turn, their roots winding across the forest floor in treacherous threads. Because of its location at the base of a mountain, the ground is uneven, rocky, and perforated with hundreds of caves. Rich with magnetic iron, the soil can play havoc on cellphone service, GPS systems, and even compasses. Most jarring is the feeling of isolation created from the stillness. The trees are too tightly packed for winds to whip through and the wildlife is sparse. So someone please tell me how the fuck this movie went an hour and a half without creating any atmosphere?!
Cinematography throughout the whole bloody thing is bland and uninspired. There are shots of Tokyo’s lights at night. Shots of railroad tracks. Shots of sushi bars. Shots of trees. No creepy angles. No creepy lighting. No creepy anything. Just one thing after another being shown at face value in perfectly centred shots.
This movie’s scares (and I’m using that word very loosely) come from the jolt of a jump scare. There’s no atmosphere, no tension. Something that causes a visceral reaction in you occurs and then it moves onto the next thing that causes a visceral reaction in you. Horror movies like this are the worst. Visceral scares come from instinct rather than intellect. Something surprising happens, your body reacts to it. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to protect yourself, not that something has truly frightened you. It leaves you asking ‘And?’ as you wait to see where they’re going with this shit. Which is nowhere. It just moves onto more of the same.
Then there’s the simple explanation of ‘the forest makes you see things’. Stated matter-of-factly by one of the two actual Japanese characters about fifty minutes in. This statement is supposed to explain why Dormer’s character starts seeing things. Because heaven forbid we’re left to deduce anything on our own. Heaven forbid anything we see isn’t explained to us. Heaven fucking forbid modern horror use subtlety, intelligence, or wit in their narratives!
Billy: I care about the forest more than I care about the characters. Which sucks, because there’s very little actually explored about the forest whatsoever. Still, it’s better than the utter nothingness that defines the characters. Natalie Dormer is usually pretty fantastic, but I think splitting her into two separate characters as the twins made her approach the character from a bit of a black and white angle, causing a rift between the characters and neither one felt whole.
Amelia: The worst part, the absolute worst part of The Forest is how insensitive this movie is. Movies can, and in fact should, be made about delicate situations. It brings light and can provide information to taboo situations. The problem is that Hollywood continually seems to fuck it up. Suicide is a national crisis in Japan, being 60% higher there than the worldwide average. An average of seventy people kill themselves everyday. Compare that to the Canadian rate of suicide of about ten people a day and it’s clearly a problem. Enter this movie about the suicide forest. It’s being told through a white woman’s eyes. A white woman looking for her white sister and with a random white dude. Having a full Japanese cast might have made this movie mean something. It might have been able to open discussions. Instead Natalie Dormer is tasked with playing twins and she meets, against all odds, a white man that’s willing to go into the forest with her. Why, oh why are the stars of this truly Japanese story Whitey Blonde Doe-Eyed Girl and Whitey Exposition Fuck Boy?
I’m so sick of this shit and, guess what, I’m white! Imagine what people of colour feel as this happens over and over again! Like, if you’re so desperate to cast white people in this story, why base this story in the actual Aokigahara? Authenticity? Lore and legends? Fuck you. Take the idea of this forest, create a fake location in the USA that’s simply based on it. That way you save at least a little grace. I mean, the script is still absolute shit, but as least it wouldn’t have been racist, white-washed shit!
Billy: I’m going to get honest and true with everyone here for a moment. Suicide is absolutely a trigger for me. Mental illness has seriously affected my life, and I am absolutely not the demographic for this film. Because of my issues, I haven’t been able to watch anybody get their wrists cut in a film since high school. Even knowing its on screen, I become physically uncomfortable and have to run my wrists along a smooth surface or blow on them to calm down. It’s a problem, and it comes up more often than you’d think. Because of that, I really didn’t like the way it was portrayed in this movie. Suicide is presented as something that sneaks up on you without notice. It’s done as a reveal at the end that Sara had been cutting her wrists the whole time. “What a twist!” is the response the filmmakers were going for here. But it’s gore. I was physically uncomfortable both during and after this movie because of how cavalierly it portrayed this aspect. The idea that you can cut your wrists and kill yourself without realizing it is the worst thing I can imagine. I fear that. But you just can’t make a horror movie about suicide. It doesn’t scare. It scars. It’s a damaging fear that made me feel like shit.
Amelia: Zero Japanese school girls in sailor suits out of ten
I’ve read R.L. Stine Goosebumps books that produced a bigger fear reaction in me. For Christ’s sake, I’ve read Nancy Drew books that produced a bigger fear reaction in me! The Forest runs on every imaginable trope but doesn’t show any of them in new ways. It doesn’t even show them in interesting ways. How they fucked up creating atmosphere in a creepy, supposedly haunted forest I’ll never understand. Even if they had succeeded at all with the horror, it’s still white-washing something that doesn’t belong to white people. It’s trash no matter what why you look at it. If I could, I’d gladly go on and on about this movie. But since I’ve already run my mouth, I’ll end my bit with this thought from the venerable Michael Walls-Kelly:
Billy: Zero Japanese school girls in sailor suits out of ten
I can confidently say I will never watch this movie again. I’m admittedly harsh on the subject matter. It probably doesn’t deserve an absolute zero, but while I could be convinced to watch something a little more carefully constructed to explore the emotion and depression that drives suicide, nothing like that is present here and my mental state was net negative after watching this film. I don’t think The Forest uses suicide for anything more interesting than cheap scares and doesn’t validate its use in my mind. Suicide isn’t horror on its own. It’s sad and desperate and scary in all the wrong ways. I take no joy in experiencing this story.