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MOVIE REVIEW: “The Forest” and the REAL Story of Japan’s Suicide Forest

I saw The Forest last night and left the theater CONVINCED I’d been “Blair Witched.” That’s when someone tells you a scary story that’s supposed to be true, but it ends up being total crap. I decided a few hours after seeing The Forest, that the haunted woods it featured weren’t real and that the stories I’d read about it were nothing but publicity. I dug a little deeper this morning though, and found out that the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji does exist and it actually IS known as the “Suicide Forest.” The unsettling history behind the area is true as well, which has led locals to claim the woods are haunted for centuries. The Aokigahara has a true mystique and sadness about it, which is why many people are outraged that Hollywood made a cheesy horror movie about it.

OK, so The Forest isn’t that cheesy. There are moments of it that are truly dark and gripping. Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) plays Sara, whose twin sister Jess has gone missing in the Aokigahara. Jess has attempted suicide in the past so it’s assumed that she has gone there to die. Sara’s twin-sense, however, tells her Jess is still alive and, even worse, in DANGER. Sara meets Aiden, played by Taylor Kinney (Chicago Fire), who decides to help her get into the forest and find her sister. Or does he have ulterior motives? The more time Sara spends in the forest with Aiden, the less she trusts him. Is her paranoia real, or are the spirits in the forest manipulating her?

The Forest has the bones of an excellent thriller, but Director Jason Zada is too focused on turning it into a SCARY MOVIE. He injects the usual creepy tropes (flickering lights, ghoulish children, macabre CGI faces) which sadly dilute the story. What starts off as an intriguing, truly ominous tale turns into something too familiar.

That doesn’t mean The Forest is BAD. Natalie Dormer does a great job playing both twins and the moments that work will send chills up and down your arms. It just could have been SO MUCH BETTER!

In fact, I got as much (if not more) from this Vice documentary about the Aokigahara. I think this footage must have been the inspiration for The Forest, because so many of the same elements are used in the movie. The film’s Aokigahara guide is probably even based on Azusa Hayano, who hikes the forest regularly and searches for bodies. Hayano feels it’s his personal mission to reach out to the suicidal visitors, and hopefully talk them out of it. Watch this short film about the Aokigahara because it explains the sadness and isolation that bring people to the forest in the first place. While it isn’t exactly scary, there is a bleakness and humanity to it that is truly powerful. It’s also an excellent companion piece to The Forest, if you decide to see it. (C+)

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