The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Forest

Aokigahara forest is located at the northwest base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Because of its size and remoteness, it is one of the most popular places in the world to commit suicide. Japanese officials stopped publicizing the numbers, but it is estimated that over a hundred people enter the forest every year with the intention of ending their own lives. Many succeed. Suicide is virtually an epidemic in Japan, and Aokigahara is consequently a place of great despair. The Forest is a cheap supernatural thriller set in Aokigahara. If that doesn't immediately strike you as somewhat icky – and if you're very easily scared – you might like this movie. All others should proceed at their own risk.

Natalie Dormer plays Sara Price, a young woman whose identical twin sister goes missing after being spotted entering the forest. Sara heads to Japan to find her. A travel magazine writer named Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and a tour guide come along to help her avoid getting lost. Once deep in the heart of Aokigahara, she goes off the trail – which she is expressly warned not to do – and promptly falls victim to disturbing hallucinations. Sara begins to wonder whether the forest is working some kind of dark magic on her.

There are two ways to make this story scary. One would be the continual implication that Sara is unknowingly running deeper and deeper into the woods, never to find her way out. The other, if the film wanted to get really edgy, would be to play up the tortured history of Aokigahara. Imagine entering a place where so many have died by their own hand. Imagine the possibility of stumbling across bodies, or belongings left behind that suggest the intense emotional pain of those who met their ends in the forest. Either, or both, of these options would be sufficiently creepy for Sara to contend with.

Instead, The Forest takes a place that is real and sad, then uses it for schlocky jump scares. Despite (perhaps somewhat tastelessly) introducing an actual place, the movie doesn't capitalize on its reason for notoriety, except as an excuse to replicate the same lame “frights” that dozens of similar chillers have utilized for years. The best director Jason Zada can do is to make everything very quiet, then suddenly have a loud noise startle you on the soundtrack. Occasionally, a ghostly-looking figure abruptly approaches the camera. If you've ever seen a picture of this type, you will doubtlessly know when such things are coming, thus rendering them free of their intended effect.

The screenplay also tries to toss in some unconvincing psychology about trauma Sara and her sister have experienced in the past. Again, this could potentially have been an eerie avenue to explore. The Forest opts to pay it off with a cheesy bit involving an old View-Master that Sara inexplicably finds in a cave. Time and time again, the movie takes subjects that are quite serious and reduces them to trivialities.

Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney are both likeable actors who perform admirably in light of vastly underwritten roles. They at least keep things relatively watchable. On a technical level, cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup succeeds in making the Serbian forest that doubles for Aokigahara look ominous. The musical score by Bear McCreary (The Walking Dead) is also generally effective.

A movie like The Forest needs a dark heart, though, and this one simply doesn't have it. Reading an article about Aokigahara is several times scarier than watching this film. (Here's a good one to get you started.) If you're going to base a horror story on something so gruesome, you can't wimp out. The Forest isn't the worst thing ever made, but it absolutely wimps out.

( out of four)

The Forest is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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