The Forest; Solid Horror or Exploitative Garbage [Trailer Review]


With a sea of potentially great films on the horizon, it’s easy to overlook some of the “lesser” titles coming out and given that we’ve finally entered the Halloween season, we’re on the look out for some good horror. With that, yesterday we were given a trailer for MTV’s upcoming spooker, The Forest.

This “based on a true story” horror/suspense/thriller is set in Japan’s infamous “Sea of Trees” or “Suicide Forest”, a very real place where many have made the journey in order to end their lives at the base of the legendary Mount Fuji. Obviously this topic is a soft spot for many, so when it was announced that not one, but two films coming out within the same calendar year would feature the forest, many were skeptical if the subject could be approached with the candor that it deserves.

The Forest features Game of Thrones actress, Natalie Dormer, an American racing to save her identical twin sister from the lure of Japan’s lurid Sea of Trees. Ignoring warnings to “stay on the path” she ventures into the trees to prevent her sister from making a lethal mistake while generations of souls claimed by the woods lurk in the shadows.

Directed by Jason Zada and based on a story by David Goyer, The Forest poses itself to be a nail biting supernatural thriller, but again, can they broach the subject with tact especially given that it will be the second film to tell the story of Japan’s famous Aokigahara forest for western audiences within a small time frame?

This year Gus Van Sant’s mystery drama, The Sea of Trees, was critically reviled and booed at Cannes. Vanity Fair called it, “a terrible design” citing the films’ “Orientalist mysticism” as one of its problems. The Forest has given absolutely no indication of doing anything different with the addition of it’s horror element to the point where the films seems to be stealing imagery from a variety of horror predecessors, including The Ring.

While The Sea of Trees set out to tell a poignant drama, The Forest uses a place where too many lives met their end as the backdrop for a haunting. One film strives to tug on the audience’s heartstrings while the other wants to get under our skin. Come January 8th, 2016 we’ll know which film achieved its aspirations although early indicators seem to have them both missing the mark.

Many movies take inspiration from actual tragedies to the point where “based on a true story” has become cliche. A family actually died in the famous Amityville horror house and that reality is part of what makes the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up, but suicide is a sensitive topic, especially for a country like Japan whose suicide rate is 60 percent higher than the world’s average. The problem in the woods at the foot of Mt. Fuji is not only very really, but it’s still ongoing to the point where locals post signs with numbers for suicide hotlines as a final attempt at helping those who have become truly lost.

The Forest’s trailer ends with a simulated Google search for the words: Suicide Forest, inviting viewers to look up stories about real human tragedy to sell tickets to what will ultimately equate to a simple jump scare movie. Of course only time will tell if either The Sea of Trees or The Forest can sell us on the story while remaining sensitive to their source material, but based on this trailer alone, The Forest seems to have set it sights on pure, unadulterated exploitation of human tragedy.

But then, who knows? What do you think? Are you excited to see The Forest? What are your thoughts on using the grounds for mass suicide the center piece of a horror film? Can it be done tactfully or would it be better to use a fictional place that doesn’t so closely resemble a place of sincerity for so many? As always, let us know in the comments section below.

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