Monday, July 18, 2022

Sister Sister

I keep rooting for Natalie Dormer to find that next big project that serves her talents. In Darkness certainly wasn't it, and while I liked the Picnic At Hanging Rock miniseries more than most, it seemed to have faded from memory. So how about that thing all young attractive actresses do after their first big project? Lead a PG13 studio-produced horror film! SURELY that'll do it?

Quick Plot: Sara feels a disturbance in the force which can only mean one thing: her twin sister Jess is in danger. Without hesitation, Sara flies to Tokyo where Jess was teaching ESL, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend who's seen this pattern before. 

See, Jess has grown up with some demons. When they were eight, the girls' father shot their mother and then himself as they watched a movie with their grandmother in the next room. Jess was the first one to the scene of the crime and saw their bodies, while Sara looked away. Twenty or so years later, the idea that Jess might have ventured into the infamous Aokigahara Forest to die by suicide isn't hard to fathom. 

But Sara is convinced that her sister is still alive, primarily because she knows she would feel it in her body if she was wrong. She catches the eye of travel writer and fellow American Aiden at her hostel bar and convinces him to take her into the woods with his local guide Michi. 

Ignoring the warnings of every single local she's met about the yurei that haunt the woods and disorient travelers with hallucinations, Sara goes deep. When she finds Jess's tent, she insists on spending the night. Aiden reluctantly does the same. 

Things do not go well.

Let's address the biggest criticism about The Forest first: this is one of those films that probably shouldn't exist in its actual form. Aokigahara Forest is a real place that witnesses dozens of deaths by suicides every year. Producer David Goyer (an association that always gives me pause) apparently conceived the story when he learned about this on Wikipedia (and yes: I got that information from Wikipedia) and couldn't believe no one had made a movie about it. Naturally, he assembled a very western team to do so. 

It's one thing to put Americans (or Brits playing Americans) in Asian stories. The  remake of The Grudge does so to smart effect. But The Forest can't seem to resist pointing out cultural differences without feeling, well, racist. We're two decades into the 21st century, yet The Forest needs to make a dumb "sushi is GROSS" joke? 

Putting some of that aside, The Forest isn't a total abuse of time. Director Jason Zarda shows some good instincts with a few surprisingly effective jump scares. He builds tension well, though the film's overuse of dream sequence reveals becomes tiring. By the time horrors are actually happening, it's hard to actually care. 

High Points
Natalie Dormer isn't doing anything overly special here, but she remains an intriguing presence that makes Sara--someone who's actually pretty terrible--still hold our sympathy

Low Points
I know it was 2016, but weren't we already past the point of American J-horror hybrids relying on grainy quick shot CGI ghost faces being utilized as a film's major scare?

Lessons Learned
Water flows down, not up

If you ever have trouble telling identical twins apart, remember this simple rule: the troubled one has black hair

Violence followed by gunshots followed by silence is generally a scene that you should approach with caution and more specifically, not with the presence of sensitive children

Meh. The Forest is a slightly better movie than its dismal critical consensus would have you to believe, but it still feels like it just never gets to be the movie it could have. Also, you know, it's pretty icky. So have at it on Netflix if that sounds appealing!


  1. Is Picnic at Hanging Rock good? My partner had wanted to watch it when it came out but I think we both forgot about it until you mentioned it.

    As for The Forest, I stumbled across the trailer a while back. I had liked the title and maybe a still pic I saw or something, but then I watched the trailer and was glad I didn't invest the time in the film. Your post here has further convinced me of that.

    In Darkness...I mean, your summary does make it sound like a bit of a disaster, but now I'm so intrigued by the plot twists that I almost want to see it! Perhaps luckily for me, there are too many other flicks I REALLY want to see so I doubt I'll ever get to In Darkness.

    1. In Darkness is the kind of terrible genre film I love watching, so I'd still give it a push. IT'S TERRIBLE, but bananas enough that I think it's worth 90 minutes. Less so The Forest!

      As for the Picnic miniseries, it's a very handsome production, but it's hard to really recommend it. It's closer to the book than original film but feels a little too on-the-nose, whereas what makes the Peter Weir film so memorable is how the entire thing just feels like a haunting mood regardless of the actual narrative.

      I think a lot of people were harsher on it than it deserved out of the pure "I hate remakes" energy (meanwhile, IT WASN'T A REMAKE; IT WAS ANOTHER ADAPTATION OF THE SAME SOURCE MATERIAL). But that being said, I wouldn't rush to watch it, especially considering the length.