Japan’s Aokighara Forest is more commonly referred to as the Suicide Forest, an historically significant “sea of trees” where people go to end their life.
It’s within this ominous real-life setting that The Forest takes place, adding to the atmosphere of director Jason Zada’s first feature length film.
Staring Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer, reality and fantasy blur when American Sara seeks to find her identical twin, who went missing after leading a school excursion. Accompanied by journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney), whom she met in a bar, and forest guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), Sara is told to stay on the path to avoid the restless spirits… which, of couse, they don’t.
Relying heavily on atmosphere, there’s a sense of oppression that is palpable for much of the film, from the opening nightmare sequence to the final chase through the trees. Even the colours are dulled, giving the stunning scenery an unwelcoming twist. There are the obligatory shocks – what horror film is complete without them? – but for the most part, The Forest stays true to itself.
The trio of writers, comprising Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai, haven’t presented a unique premise nor a complicated tale, but they add a significant element of uncertainty by presenting Sara as potentially unstable from a childhood trauma – only she sees the spirits and hears her sister. Never are the two seen together except in her memories. Whether the hauntings are in her mind or in the forest is never definitively answered. You decide.
That air of mystery is one of many things to like about The Forest, along with the fine cast, interesting scenery and the successful directorial debut of Zada.
The Blu-ray and DVD releases include the featurette “Exploring the Forest”, but follow advice and stay on the path.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 7
The Forest is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.