“The Forest” stars “Game of Thrones” actress Natalie Dormer as twins, Jess and Sara Price. Having long had a strong sense of each other, Sara begins to have nightmare visions that indicate Jess is planning to take her own life. Having moved to Japan to teach abroad, Jess’s suicide plan involves a trip to the legendary ‘Suicide Forest,’ the Aokigahara Forest at the foot of Mount Fuji which has for decades been known as a place where people go to commit suicide amid the tranquility of the forest.
In an attempt to stop her Sara travels to Japan intending on going into the forest to find Jess. Along the way she meets a journalist named Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who is writing a story about the Suicide Forest and offers to accompany her into the forest which has a history not merely of suicide but also for strange visions that lead people to enter the forest and never return. Warning against the trip but nevertheless offering his services as a guide is Michi (Yukioshi Ozawa), a man who has made it his mission to save those that can be saved and recover the bodies of those who can’t.
Whether Sara finds Jess or whether Aiden the journalist has secret, sinister motivations or if there is some sort of malevolent spirit in the forest is rendered irrelevant by the incompetent direction of newcomer Jason Zada who brings little but modern horror movie cliché to his direction of “The Forest.” He’s hampered by a screenplay credited to three different writers who fail to invest the characters or story with anything more than the bare minimum of motivation and an intriguing idea.
Indeed, “The Forest” has a fascinating idea at its center. The Aokigahara Forest has a fascinating backstory as a place where people go by the hundreds year after year, from around the world, seeking the peace needed to bring an end to their life. Why this place? Likely, it is because Aokigahara is beautiful and peaceful with thick treelines that prevent the noise of the outside world. Aokigahara is also so remote that travelers are unlikely to see another soul for days and with no one to prevent them from killing themselves they are able to further divorce themselves from reality.
That is the kind of fascinating and terrible history that would make a terrific documentary. In just reading about the Aokigahara Forest you find a story that mixes tragedy and beauty in a most unique and compelling way. That the makers of “The Forest” use this story as a backdrop for a supremely inane series of jump scares and supernatural chicanery is the biggest sin of “The Forest.”