The Forest (2016)
Directed by Jason Zada
It took three writers to come up with the worst movie of 2016. Okay, so it’s also the first movie of 2016. New Year, new movies. But, take my advice…wait until next week to start your cinematic journey. Because “The Forest” doesn’t get us off to a good start.
Jess Price, twin sister to Sara (both played by Natalie Dormer), has been missing in Japan for four days. The last person to see her said she was walking into the notorious “suicide forest,” Aokigahara. People who go there don’t often plan on coming back. But Sara knows her sister is alive. She’d know if she wasn’t. So she travels to Japan to search for her twin sister herself, since authorities consider it a lost cause. With the help of a journalist she meets at a bar (Taylor Kinney), and a local guide (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), Sara will hike into the paranormal forest, even after warnings that forces among the trees will make you commit suicide even if you’re not looking to.
Dormer (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I & II,” “Game of Thrones”) has never been so stilted, awkward, and unnatural than she is playing the grief-stricken (yet also surprisingly undisturbed) Sara. She’s even worse playing her dark-haired, emo twin Jess. Dormer uses grossly overdramatic screams, horrifically out of place, and spends a good chunk of the movie clumsily falling on her face. At times, “The Forest” seems more “Scary Movie” than scary movie. It’s laughably bad. As if it were the only way Japanese characters are allowed to be (think “Godzilla”), the guide played by Ozawa is so terribly written that his only lines are ominous one-liners and frustrated huffs.
For a film with an interesting shell of a plot, “The Forest” wastes most of its time finding irrelevant ways to scare us. It’s slow and unsteady and full of situations that lend themselves to scaring you…but are totally unrealistic. Sara goes out of her way to find these situations—sure, scary movie protagonists are never smart, but this one is really bad. A few scary scenes take your breath for a moment, but I never felt truly haunted, or wrapped in suspense. There were no extended series of frightening situations. It might catch you off guard, but it doesn’t sustain the fear. “The Forest” is mindless, boring, forgettable January muck.