Before its release, The Forest has attracted a surprising amount of attention due to the film’s setting in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, an area notorious for the number of locals who commit suicide in it. Detractors certainly have a point in claiming that The Forest exploits a culturally sensitive location for Western entertainment. But the amount of attention this story gives the film is significantly larger than the film deserves in any way. The Forest is a surprisingly dull, inept film that manages to look bad even in the light of standard January horror releases.
Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) travels to Japan after learning that her twin sister Jess (Dormer) has disappeared into the Aokigahara Forest, then sensing that Jess is in danger. Once in Japan, Sara visits the school where Jess taught English to students, and in the process freaks out the students, who assume that Sara is Jess’ ghost. From there, Sara attempts to find someone to guide her through the forest, though the locals try to convince her that Jess is presumably dead, and that Sara should be careful if she does venture into the forest.
Eventually, Sara convinces a travel journalist named Aiden (Taylor Kinney) to let her tag along with him and a ranger named Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) on an exploration of the forest off of the paths. As they start, Michi warns Sara that the forest finds a way to bring issues of sadness to the forefront, and to warp a person’s mind. They eventually stumble upon Jess’ tent, and Sara insists on staying the night in the forest.
By this point, the standard horror movie twists and jump-scares come into play, but The Forest does next to nothing to earn anything but laughter from its audience. Most of the revelations involve the characters, but the film does so little to invest in its characters up until the third act that nothing really lands. To her credit, Dormer works to create two distinctive characters that don’t exist in the script. She’s the only one giving any noticeable effort. The actual Aokigahara forest is more lively than <em>The Forest</em>, which makes this early 2016 entry the year’s first must-avoid feature.