The trailer for this movie said it all – The Forest belongs in a long line of Hollywood movies that turn exotic places to scary backdrops revolving around white interlopers.
To be fair, the movie has potential elements.
It has Natalie Dormer, a good actress who is convincing as twin sisters. Dormer is committed to selling her role and proves to be engaging enough.
The movie has simple but effective spins on derivative tactics. The limited source of light from a mobile phone and creepy slides from a View-Master create suspense. Framing and sound design amplify key moments, even when it’s just another negligible character running through the woods.
Sadly, the movie doesn’t go beyond any of these efforts. It prefers to capitalize on the infamy of a location to serve cheap thrills filled with jump scares, generic ghouls, and forgettable characters. Worse, it exploits the exotic aspects of Japanese culture to generate creepy and scary moments.
The first half already offers the first clue: a dish with raw shrimp flickering its tail on a plate. The plot moves to the Aokigahara aka Suicide Forest, and the movie quickly becomes a big mistake.
The Forest devolves into a generic supernatural thriller where a white person is haunted by an exotic entity in the form of a Japanese schoolgirl yurei. The movie blatantly ignores the cultural aspect of the forest and uses the tragedy of its dead as a source of hate and malevolence.
It can be argued that anyone – regardless of race – can end up unwittingly messing with sacred sites in some unknown part of the world. However, The Forest doubles down on its ill-advised premise. It trivializes a real-life issue, romanticizes a real place of tragedy, and features a whitewashed cast, all for the sake of entertainment.
The movie has come under fire because of these issues. The Forest could’ve easily avoided this by not using Aokigahara at all.
In the hands of a capable director, there’s plenty of imagery and scares that you can derive from combining an emotionally unstable person and a remote forest. It would have been refreshing to see a horror movie tackle mental illness and suicide without using it as a plot device.
Sadly, Jason Zada prefers to sensationalize infamy rather than deliver a horror with depth.
The Forest is a racist and generic supernatural thriller that turns a culturally important place of tragedy and trauma into a horror theme park.