Scary movies are probably the most difficult genre of film to produce effectively. They’re risky because there’s always the chance that a film intended to scare will unintentionally turn into a comedy in front of a laughing audience. As one of the first movies of 2016 and the first horror film of the year, “The Forest,” directed by Jason Zada and starring “The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 & 2” actress Natalie Dormer (she played Cressida), is a slightly disappointing start to the year for the horror film industry.
“The Forest” centers around Sara (played by Dormer) who suspects that her twin sister Jess (also played by Dormer) , an English teacher in Japan, has gone missing. She suspects that Jess has gone missing in the Aokigahara Forest, which is known internationally as the “suicide forrest.” Naturally, she goes out and seeks to find her sister.
Written by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai, “The Forest” has a relatively stable plot and is instantly more riveting to viewers, based on the mysteries of the real-life Aokigahara Forest. However, with a $10 million budget, the film feels cheaply executed. Because the characters lack depth and are predictable, it instantly deteriorates the movie’s scare factor. The writers use very effective techniques such as contradicting flashbacks, foreshadowing, and mysterious details that only a very attentive audience member will catch and then later resolve. The plot and writing techniques, however, are not enough to carry the film.
The first five minutes of the film are the worst opening scenes of a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s an incredibly ineffective intro into the film. It’s choppy, confusing, and it does not accomplish any of the goals of an effective intro. It doesn’t establish a setting, solid relationships between characters, or a set place in time. This experimentality of the film is appreciated later, but the establishing scenes make nearly no sense. Experimental approaches to the intro scenes are creative and usually work well in horror films, but in “The Forest,” this technique was just not meant to be used.
Natalie Dormer’s performance as Sara and her twin sister, Jess, is pleasantly impressive. Taking on two characters in the same film had to be very challenging, but she executes it very well. Although her character is predictable, Dormer exaggerates and amplifies Sara’s characteristics so well that the naive, vulnerable, and stubborn character that plagues nearly all horror films with their poor decision-making skills is less annoying and boring than it could have been.
Essentially, it comes down to the question of is “The Forest” scary and is it worth my money? Will you be scared? Yes. Is the movie scary? No. The film relies on cheap surprises designed to jolt you out of your seat rather than playing with the audience’s fears and scary foreplay. Sure, you’ll jump a few times but you’ll sleep just as easy the kids that went to see “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.” Is it worth your money? Only if you just really need to see a horror movie. There are plenty of better movies to spend your $7 on and this one isn’t that bad of an option. And if you consider that you’re getting a comedy and horror all in one, it really is a deal.