The Forest (2016)

The Forest
Director: Jason Zada
Writer: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, Ben Ketai
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken, Rina Takasaki
Seen on: 18.8.2021

Content Note: suicide, racism

Sara’s (Natalie Dormer) twin sister Jess (Natalie Dormer) has disappeared in Japan. Everyone seems to assume that she is dead as she was last seen in Aokigahara forest, a spot known for people to go to kill themselves. But Sara is convinced that Jess isn’t dead, just lost. So she goes to Japan to find her. She meets journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who is about to write about Aokigahara and invites her to join his exploration with local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), if she lets him use her story. Sara agrees. As they head into the forest, they soon realize that there is more to it than they thought at first.

Sometimes I want to kick myself for my memory and for my tendency to not read much about films before seeing them. If my memory had been better, I would have remembered why I hadn’t watched The Forest before, and if I had read more about it, I probably would have remembered better or realized anew. Because The Forest is one fucking racist mess and it isn’t even subtle or debatable. It’s just really, really racist. And even apart from that, it’s not particularly good.

The film poster showing Sara's (Natalie Dormer) face, the lower half dissolving into a series of nooses below a line of trees.

The Forest is white imaginations put on Japanese soil, with all the exoticizing you could possibly think of, scandalizing Aokigahara without any respect or understanding and relegating Japanese characters to the sidelines to center white protagonists. There are several instances where random Japanese people are literally only used to scare the living hell out of Sara. Sara turns up in the school where Jess worked, not thinking about the impact she would have as Jess’ twin just showing up in her classroom – and the students’ traumatized reaction is basically a mood piece that reinforces the idea that all these Japanese people and their superstitions are really backward.

The only Japanese character who gets a bit more to do is Michi – because the white people need a local guide, of course, and we all know that it’s okay to go the locals for that. His knowledge and advice about the forest is disregarded at every turn, though, because white folk know better. It’s understandable that Ozawa walks around with a constant “fed up with these white fuckers” facial expressions. I relate, my dude. That the movie proves him right is irrelevant in the end, because the movie only cares about the white people.

Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) leading Sara (Natalie Dormer) and Aiden (Taylor Kinney) through the forest.

It is equally dismissive of suicide as a topic as it is of Japanese people and culture. There is one scene where Michi finds somebody contemplating suicide. He talks to him for about 2 minutes and then comes back, reporting that he thinks that the guy will be okay, and walks on, leaving the suicidal person alone in the forest. Plus, in the end suicide is shown to be a great sacrifice for the sake of another person, and holy fucking shit, can you make a depiction any more problematic? [That there is actually a suicide in Sara and Jess’s family is never really tied into the topic, either.]

So, the film is a mess with regards to its contents, but even if you disregard that, all that you’re left with is an unoriginal, confused and pretty lackluster horror film. Dormer does her best and her charm goes a long way, but it doesn’t change the fact that the way the film tells its story is all over the place and the scares are so obvious that they are neither scary nor memorable. Overall, it’s just a really bad film.

Sara (Natalie Dormer) leaning against a tree, one hand covering her face as if she's about to throw up.

Summarizing: Don’t make the same mistake I made. Do not watch this.

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