THE FOREST Directed by Jason Zada. Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken. 15A cert, gen release, 92 min Jason Zada can take pride in one thing. His debut horror film is not the worst picture in the past 12 months to take place in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest. Mind you, few would brag about being rated above Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees, among the worst films ever to compete for the Cannes Palme d’Or.
The Forest hangs around a perfectly decent concept. Natalie Dormer plays Sara, a young woman distressed by the disappearance of her twin sister. The circumstances could hardly be less promising. The Japanese forest into which the young woman vanished is among the most popular sites for suicide in the world.
Sara travels first to Tokyo – where she views neon lights from a car window in the style of Lost in Translation – and then moves on to the woods at the base of Mount Fuji. Will pessimistic locals warn her not to step away from the path? Of course they will.
No cliché of contemporary or vintage horror is shunned in this depressingly perfunctory entertainment. Sara meets a handsome young man and – despite being married to our own Eoin Macken – shares beers and ultimately tells him about the terrible incident that left her and her sister as orphans.
Even if The Forest were not set in Japan, we would be reminded of that strange period in the mid-noughties when, following Ringu and The Grudge, every second US
Japanesey does it: Natalie Dormer in The Forest
director attempted to ape the rhythms and rhymes of J-horror. Once again, we are packed onto a poorly designed ghost train and hurtled past a randomly arranged array of stuff that would fail to frighten even the frailest infant.
Strange schoolgirls surge out from behind trees. Something less clearly defined emerges from a bush. None of this coheres into anything like a plot and, as a result, it’s hard to tell whether the blaring final sequence constitutes a narrative twist. By that stage, we have become so confused and so bored that the film-makers could end with donkeys dancing in tutus and we’d feel nothing but relief that the ghastly experience was nearly over.