The Austin Chronicle

The Forest

Rated PG-13, 93 min. Directed by Jason Zada. Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Rina Takasaki.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Jan. 15, 2016

The snap of a twig, the rustle of a branch – that’s about as scary as it gets in The Forest, a supernatural horror movie afraid of its own shadow. That’s too bad, given its promising psychological premise. A young American woman, Sara (Dormer), travels to Japan to search for her missing twin sister, Jess, who reputedly ventured into the preternaturally lush Aokigahara Forest near Mount Fuji, an infamous destination for the suicidal. Once there, she befriends an Australian journalist (Kinney) offering to accompany her to comb the thicket with the assistance of a local guide (Ozawa), who warns them about the mindfuck the haunted woodland can inflict upon the unwary. In the film’s first half, little happens (lots of walking, lots of talking), except to establish a childhood trauma that has long troubled the two sisters. Jason Zada’s direction lacks any palpable suspense or tension in this portion of the film – it’s all deadening setup – so by the time things get rolling (if you can call it that) in the second half, you feel strangely detached from it all. The paranoia and fear the two central characters experience the longer they remain in the Aokigahara never registers because it feels like nothing more than narrative expediency. Despite the ghostly apparitions and the hallucinatory visions, the movie never really gets out of the woods.

In the dual role of Sara/Jess, Dormer distinguishes the siblings nicely, though there’s something less than compelling about the character of Sara, who comes off as strangely unsympathetic. There’s an unsettling rigidity in Dormer’s portrayal of this hardheaded woman; she’s a tough nut to crack. When the consequences of her foolhardiness begin to catch up with her, you may find yourself simply shrugging your shoulders, rather than rooting for her to overcome them. Kinney comes off slightly better, seemingly more genuine, even though his Boy Scout is revealed to be something less than represented. When the two begin running around in circles as the forest’s psychological grip upon them tightens, you become as disoriented as they are. By the time Jess finally makes her appearance, nostrils flaring and eyes bugging, the movie is hopelessly confused as well, numbing you into nothingness. If a tree falls in The Forest, rest assured you won’t hear a sound.

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