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Movie Night – 'Forest' gets credit for ending viewer may not see coming (Feb. 3, 2016 issue)

January is not usually a prime month for the release of horror movies. But that didn’t deter the filmmakers behind “The Forest.” The movie hit theaters and made a modest splash financially. “The Forest” stars Natalie Dormer of “Game of Thrones” fame.
Sara Price (Dormer) has a twin sister, Jess (also Dormer). The pair also share a secret from their childhood that haunts both of them into their adult lives. Sara has been able to handle the secret better than Jess. Since they were children Sara has looked after Jess, taken care of her and jumped at her beck and call when Jess needed rescuing.
Before the movie begins Jess has taken a job teaching English in a school in Tokyo, Japan. One night Sara receives a call from the Tokyo police. Jess has gone missing in a forest and is presumed dead. Sara can’t understand why no one is looking for Jess if they haven’t yet found her body. Sara needs answers, so she hops on the first flight to Japan.
Sara quickly learns that Jess disappeared into the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji. The Aokigahara Forest is also known as the Suicide Forest, being one of the most popular sites in the world for committing suicide. The legend goes to say that hundreds of years ago the old and infirm were taken into the forest and left to die. From there the myth and the reality of the forest became intertwined.
Sara befriends Aiden (Taylor Kinney), an American who is visiting the forest to write an article for a travel magazine. Together they team up with Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), a park guide, to explore the forest searching for Jess and others who wish to do themselves harm.
Michi warns Sara that her sister is most likely dead. No one spends much time in this forest and lives to tell about it. He also warns her not to believe bad things she may see in the forest. The forest messes with your mind, makes you see things that aren’t real. Undaunted, the trio enter the forest searching for Jess.
“The Forest” is part supernatural thriller and part mystery. That’s usually a good combination. The problem here is that at certain integral parts of the movie it feels like the movie can’t decide which path to take, whether it’s based in reality or in the supernatural. For my money, I would rather have seen less supernatural and more thriller. After all, movies that could be reality are the most frightening of all.
That being said, “The Forest” is not that scary. It’s not a horror movie in the classic sense. The movie is creepy and it will make you jump when something leaps out at the screen. It might even make you get goosebumps a time or two. But it certainly doesn’t fill you with terror.
The plot of the movie is well written. Chances are you’ve never heard of the Suicide Forest before this movie. The fact that it is a real place where many people commit suicide each year brings a certain level of mystery and authenticity to the movie that would be lacking if the forest was only a figment of the writer’s imagination. The scenery, while not as breathtaking as that in “The Revenant,” is pretty spectacular.
“The Forest” gets credit for an ending that you probably won’t see coming, which is a rare commodity in Hollywood. It’s a good movie, and with just a few tweaks it could have been a very good movie. As it is, “The Forest” would best be enjoyed at home in the dark when it becomes available for rental.
Grade: B
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images.