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Family Movie Review: The Forest (PG-13)

TheForest ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 93 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 15+. This run-of-the-mill horror film doesn’t have that many truly horrifying images, but its real-life location and its subject matter is inherently upsetting with its focus on suicide and people taking their own lives. In this forest, there are corpses littered everywhere, including having been drowned and hanging from trees, and there is a variety of violence, including people being murdered, stabbed, fighting, and cutting themselves. Some cursing, some adults drinking, and some macabre images, including of ghosts, otherworldly figures, and ghoul-like beings.

Disturbingly manipulative and yet totally conventional, ‘The Forest’ is thoroughly forgettable. It’s more memorable for being opportunistic than for being truly frightening.

By Roxana Hadadi

There are certainly horror movies “based on true stories”; what’s creepier than thinking what just terrified you onscreen could have truly happened in real life? But there’s no curiosity in “The Forest,” which uses as its setting Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, nicknamed Suicide Forest for the dozens of people who take their lives there each year. The film’s opportunistic choice of location, and then its complete lack of respect for it, make this one off-putting, forgettable movie.

“The Forest” focuses on twin sisters Jess and Sara (both played by Natalie Dormer, of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”), who have shared a psychic connection for years after their parents died. As adults, they live thousands of miles apart, with Jess teaching in Japan and Sara living in the United States; the latter makes the trip abroad, though, when she receives a call from Japanese police telling her that Jess entered Aokigahara Forest.

Because the forest is such a popular suicide destination, police don’t really conduct lengthy searches inside it for people who go missing – meaning that Sara doesn’t have very long to find her sister and convince her not to take her own life. When she arrives in Japan, though, she seems to luck out by meeting a reporter, Aiden (Taylor Kinney, of “The Other Woman”), who offers to connect with her a park ranger, Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), who will lead her through the forest. All Sara has to do is let Aiden interview her for a story – and maybe she’ll be able to save Jess.

Strange things start happening almost immediately, though. All the Japanese people she meets seem to treat her with fear and distance, warning her zealously to stay on the path of the forest. And Michi adds his own wisdom, telling her that spending the night in the forest opens herself up to the dangerous thoughts encouraged by that place. But when Sara finds a tent in the forest that she recognizes as Jess’s, she’s determined to stay there and find her sister – no matter the consequences.

And of course, the consequences are meant to thoroughly scare Sara, and us by extension. Too bad that they are so similar to everything else we’ve seen in horror films recently, with creepy Japanese schoolgirls, creepy senior citizens, and creepy people who suddenly transform into looking like ghouls. There is very little in the film, scare-wise, that actually seems to connect to the film’s setting – and if the content isn’t going to mirror or at least tap into the history and importance of Aokigahara Forest, why bother using it as a location? The choice was clearly a shortcut by filmmakers to give the story an inherent fear factor, but that doesn’t come through. It just feels manipulative.

Perhaps that’s because the story is so average, too, with a final twist that will make you roll your eyes with its obviousness. As charming and self-assured as Dormer was in the final two “Hunger Games” films, she can’t muster up real fear here – her portrayal of Sara makes the character more annoyed than terrified, and you’ll feel the same way about “The Forest.”

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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