SHOCK reviews the new Natalie Dormer creeper THE FOREST.
THE FOREST follows Sara Price (GAME OF THRONES’ Natalie Dormer) on her quick descent into madness as she scours Japans famous Aokigahara Forest (a.k.a.the Suicide Forest) in search of her identical twin, Jess, who has recently gone missing there. Everyone around her, including the local authorities, warns Sara that her sis is probably dead; but Saras psychic connection to her sister is just-too-strong, so, she ignores their many cautions and powers on, under-prepared for the supernatural shit-storm that shes about to face. Alas, Sara falls prey to the will of the woods and she finds herself trapped in an uncertain kind of folklore hell that she must resist if anyone has a hope of surviving.
THE FOREST kicks off with piled exposition. Within the first 10 minutes, a shortlist of characters have blurted the backstory, almost as if the director kind of casually “yeah, yeah-ed” his way through the idea of having an an “act one”. The movie begins to move beyond “just the facts” once Sara arrives to the mountain and checks in at her hotel. This is where we get a glimpse her underlying motivation. This is also where we meet Aidan (Taylor Kinney), the vaguely sketched but strapping travel journalist who insists on helping Sara on her journey into the woods.
After a series of unfortunate decisions (and some increasingly eerie sequences), Aidan eventually finds himself at the mercy of Sara”s increasingly fragile psyche as they co-navigate the forest in search of Jess(also played by Dormer), who has left evidence of her presence and eventually safety from what is either real spectral malevolence or something even more sinister.
Both Dormer and Kinney give fine performances; she as a strong-willed, self-flagellating portal to disaster, and him as an opportunist with an alleged heart of gold. Director Jason Zada does a decent job building tension with the ambiguous personalities and surreal visions, keeping us wondering who we can or cannot trust. This includes the portrait of Saras troubled twin, who never seems to be more than a pocket tool for her sister’s story, glimpses in flashback. Despite the films feathery attempt to build out some dimension, the fact that we bypass our own taste and perceptions of Jess breeds relative indifference as to whether or not she is actually dead or alive.
There are some unexpected pleasures to be had in THE FOREST though. The story behind the making of these doomed twins is interesting and left just enough in the shadows that we want to learn more. And the cinematography (by Mattias Troelstrup) is excellent, with splendid Group of Seven-style landscape shots that juxtapose the calming grace of nature against the tearing narcissism of humanity. And, THE FOREST does deliver some legitimate jump scares throughout, which, at the end of the day, is likely reason enough to keep audiences seat-bound and talking about it.
Overall, THE FOREST is an entertaining, reasonably scary contemporary horror film. Keep your expectations low.