The Forest wastes its potential and the talent of its lead actress by offering a generic supernatural thriller and worse, turns a culturally important place of tragedy and trauma into a horror theme park.

Sara (Natalie Dormer), a young American woman, goes in search of her twin sister, who has mysteriously disappeared. Despite everyone’s warnings to “stay on the path,” Sara enters the legendary Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mt. Fuji determined to discover the truth about her sister’s fate – only to be confronted by the angry and tormented souls of the dead that prey on anyone who wanders into the forest.

The trailer for this movie has pretty much said it all – The Forest belongs in a long line of Hollywood movies that turn exotic places to scary backdrops revolving around white interlopers. In fairness the movie has potential elements.

The Forest has Natalie Dormer, a more than reliable actress who is convincing as twin sisters. Dormer is committed to sell her role and proves to be engaging enough.

The movie has simple but effective spins on derivative tactics. The limited source of light from a mobile phone and creepy slides from a View-Master create suspense. Framing and sound design also helps elicit the same in other key moments, even when it’s just another negligible character running through the woods.

Sadly, the movie doesn’t go beyond any of these efforts. It prefers to capitalize on the infamy of a location to serve cheap thrills filled with jump scares, generic ghouls, and forgettable characters. Worse, it exploits the exotic aspects of Japanese culture to generate creepy and scary moments.

The first half already offers the first clue: raw shrimp flickering its tail served on a plate. Eventually, the plot moves to the Aokigahara aka Suicide Forest, where real life tragedies are still happening today. The movie devolves into  a generic supernatural thriller where a white person is haunted by an exotic entity in the form of a Japanese schoolgirl yurei. Not only does the movie blatantly ignore the cultural aspect of the forest, it also uses the tragedy of its dead as a source of hate and malevolence.

It can be argued that anyone – regardless of race – can end up unwittingly messing with sacred sites in some unknown part of the world. However, it’s an entirely different matter when a pot-boiler trivializes a real life issue and romanticizes a real place of trauma and tragedy.

Naturally, The Forest has come under fire because of these issues. The movie could’ve have avoided this by becoming a psychological horror drama set against an unnamed backdrop. There’s something interesting about a place that can make you batshit crazy by using your own unresolved issues and emotional baggage. In the hands of a capable director, there’s plenty of imagery that you can derive from the combination of a hallucinating broken soul and a creepy forest. It would have been refreshing to see a horror movie tackle mental illness and suicide without using it as a plot device. Sadly, Jason Zada prefers to sensationalize infamy rather than deliver a horror with depth.

My Rating: 3/10