Review: 'The Forest' a horror film with little horror

THE FOREST: 2 STARS

"If you go out in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise." The surprise in "Teddy Bear’s Picnic" is fairly benign — teddy bears eating and "having a lovely time" — but a new movie makes the woods out to be a much more surprising and scary place.

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Just as Hansel and Gretel ignored warnings about the woods and ended up coming across a cannibalistic witch, "The Forest" proves there’s nothing enchanting about this enchanted forest.

Set in the forest of Aokigahara, a real life place at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji also known as the Suicide Forest, the movie sees Sara ("Game of Thrones’" Natalie Dormer) in search of her missing twin sister Jess (also played by Dormer). Sara recruits expat American Aiden ("Chicago Med’s" Taylor Kinney)—who, helpfully, is fluent in Japanese—and "suicide hike" guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to help her navigate the dense, dangerous woods.

The Forest film review

"People say spirits cannot rest there. They come back ANGRY!" Michi warns them to always stay on the path and insists they leave by sundown, but most ominously tells them, "The spirits make you see things and make you want to die!"

Of course after locating Jess’s campsite just before dark Sara won’t leave and Aiden is too much of a gentleman to leave her there alone. Michi hightails it, leaving the two at the mercy of the forest’s bad mojo. Is what Sara is seeing real, or a dark fantasy caused by restless spirits?

Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney in The Forest

A better name for "The Forest" would have been "Hell Hike" given the hellish amount of time we watch Sara and Aiden plodding through the woods. It’s one of those movies where you often feel like something is about to happen and then…nothing. It’s all anticipation with little payoff.

There are a handful of jump scares—loud noises designed to give you a jolt—but they don’t add much to the story or raise many goosebumps.

Perhaps if the trio of writers (Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai) responsible for this skimpily plotted psychological drama spent more time on creating characters we cared about (sorry Sara and Jess) or building some actual tension we could excuse the barebones plot.

The idea of the suicide forest is a good one but the movie doesn’t trust us to understand the stakes and continually, and annoyingly, reminds us that going into the forest is bad. We get it. Now scare us.

Add to that clumsy metaphors—Jess went to the forest to battle her personal demons, now Sara is battling real ones!—and you’re left with a good justification for clearcutting.



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