Part of the hugely successful HBO’s Game Of Thrones and The Hunger Games series, its about time Natalie Dormer started moving away from the ensemble and became a star on her own talent. So here we are with Japanese inspired psychological horror/thriller The Forest, set mostly in Aokigahara Forest in Japan at the foot of Mount Fuji, which is commonly known as a destination for suicide. This is Jason Zada’s feature film debut, and honestly he could have done a lot worse.
Opening with a a long, and actually rather creativity-less montage, it sets off with Sara (Dormer) leaving her husband back in America while she flies to Japan to search for her missing twin sister Jess (also Dormer). She soon discovers that Jess was last seen going into Aokigahara Forest, a suicide hotspot, and with help from travel journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and volunteer guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) she travels deep into the forest. After the discovery of her sisters tent late in the day, she opts to stay over night with Aiden, all to the disapproval of the spirits that lurk in amongst the trees.
As previously said, this film can be seen as Dormer breaking away from the big cast movies and finding herself as the star. Game Of Thrones and The Hunger Games aside, she has had small parts in big films such as Rush and Captain America. So just so we know she is the star and we should pay attention to her, she is one of only three non-Japanese actors with lines in a film set in Japan with Japanese folk law at the forefront. Although her performance (or rather, double performance) is not convincing enough to suggest she will have many more options for this sort of attention any time soon. Her portrayal as Sara is just cringe after cringe of unconvincing dialogue, where as her few lines as Jess are actually a lot better.
But from one beginning to another, Jason Zada’s introduction into the feature film did have its moments. These types of horror films that are churned out in the masses to give slight jumps and scares aren’t known for their story telling, so the rather dull montage the takes up the first 10 minutes of the film can be forgiven. If you don’t know what ‘types’ of films I’m talking about then just watch any ghosty/ghouly horror film made since Paranormal Activity and you’ll understand what I mean. Anyway, to my surprise many other elements of the film are great though. One scene that stuck with me was a short night time scene in the hotel the night before they set off into the woods. It involves Sara, an old lady, plenty of darkness and a flickering green light. It was a great scene with excellent lighting techniques and resulting in a triumphant jump. There are a few more instances where you would think “Wow, this is actually good film making”, and you’d check that you aren’t watching a trashy horror film, but in Dormer’s fall, comes Zada’s gain. Another example involves two different accounts of the same event being told together, one in image and one in sound.
On the whole, the film starts a bit slow but does pick up. There is a twist at the end that would have been made more convincing with better make-up and of course it ends with the Paranormal Activity inspired last shot like most other supernatural horrors do now. Hopefully Natalie Dormer does find her film to make her the star she can be, but unfortunately The Forest isn’t it. Great editing and cinematic tropes make for easy on the eye viewing but just don’t go into the woods hoping for a tall tale.
Dir: Jason Zada
Scr: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai
Prd: David S. Goyer, David Linde, Tory Metzger
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney
DOP: Mattias Troelstrup
Music: Bear McCreary
Running time: 93 mins
The Forest is in cinemas now.