FILM REVIEW – THE FOREST. With Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Ibuki Kaneda. Written by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai. Directed by Jason Zada. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images. 95 minutes.
One shouldn’t expect too much from THE FOREST. It’s by a first-time feature film director and is being released in January simply to have some counterprogramming for all the Oscar bait out there. (The Oscar nominations come out next week.) So if you go in with low expectations, at least it’s spooky enough way to pass the time and get in out of the cold.
Sara (Natalie Dormer) has received word that her twin sister Jess (also played by Dormer), who has been teaching in Japan, has gone missing. She had gone off the path in the Aokigahara Forest, a place where–according to the film–people go to die. Sara is convinced that Jess is still alive because, well… twins!
At her hotel she is approached by Aidan (Taylor Kinney), a travel reporter from Australia. Conveniently he speaks Japanese, knows a forest guide, and is planning on going into the forest the next day. Sara comes along. She has been told that the forest is haunted, and the spirits are “angry” and will make her see things that will make her want to give up her own life. Undaunted, she goes in.
Much of the film is Sara–with or without Aidan–bumbling around the forest. Having fallen down once and badly gashed her hand, you’d think she’d learn not run through the forest, but she does so repeatedly, with varying consequences. She also starts listening to the various characters she improbably encounters, and this also leads to no good. And so we go through the film–getting the occasionally scare or errie moment–while we wait for the payoff. When it comes, it hardly seems worth it.
Once you get over the fact that there’s nothing original here–except, perhaps, having the Japanese forest played by one in Serbia–you can focus on other things. Dormer, perhaps best known for work on “Game of Thrones,” plays the “young woman haunted by scary things” part with slightly more intelligence than one expects in such films. First time feature director Jason Zada makes good use of his locations, and does what he can to punch up the story. He may make more of an impression with better material.
In the end, though, “The Forest” is destined to be one of those generic horror films you find at the video store or your online streaming service, unsure if you saw it but willing to take a chance. On your laptop this should do fine.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.