The Forest is a 2016 American supernatural horror film directed by Jason Zada and written by Ben Ketai, Nick Antosca, and Sarah Cornwell. Starring Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney, it follows a young woman who travels to Aokigahara (the suicide forest) to find her sister.
|Directed by||Jason Zada|
|Edited by||Jim Flynn|
|Music by||Bear McCreary|
|Distributed by||Gramercy Pictures|
|Box office||$37.6 million|
The film was released on January 8, 2016 in the United States by Gramercy Pictures and was negatively received by critics, but was a box office success, grossing $37.6 million against a reported budget of $10 million.
Sara Price, an American woman, receives a phone call from the Japanese police telling her that they think her troubled twin sister, Jess Price is dead, as she was seen going into Aokigahara forest. Despite the concerns of her fiancé, Rob, she journeys to Japan and arrives at the hotel where her sister was staying.
At the hotel, Sara meets a reporter named Aiden. They drink together, and she tells him of her parents' death. In reality, her father killed her mother, then died by suicide, but she tells him they were killed by a drunk driver. Her sister saw the bodies, but Sara didn't look. Aiden invites her to go into the forest with him and a park guide, Michi, so she can look for her sister.
As the three enter Aokigahara, Michi tells Sara that Jess has most likely killed herself. Sara refuses to believe this, explaining how, being a twin, she can "feel" that Jess is still alive. Deep in the woods, the group discovers a yellow tent that Sara recognizes as belonging to Jess. With nightfall approaching, Michi suggests they leave a note for Jess and leave. Sara refuses, and Aiden volunteers to stay with her through the night.
That night, Sara hears rustling in the bushes and, believing it may be Jess, rushes into the woods after her. Sara finds a Japanese girl, Hoshiko, who claims to know Jess. The girl warns Sara not to trust Aiden and flees at the sound of his voice. Sara attempts to chase after her but falls and loses her.
The next day, Aiden and Sara become lost and begin to walk around the forest. As they walk, Sara's suspicions are raised and she demands Aiden to give her his phone and finds a picture of Jess on it. Aiden denies any involvement with Jess, but Sara runs into the forest alone. While running she begins to hear voices telling her to turn around. She appears to be unfazed by this until she hears the voice directly behind her. She turns around to see a hanging body and continues to run away. She then falls through a hole into a cave and, later she wakes up and discovers that she is in the cave with Hoshiko, who turns out to be a yūrei. Hoshiko then turns into what appears to be a "demonic figure." Sara then runs back towards the cave's opening, where Aiden finds her and helps her out of the cave. After some convincing, they continue to walk together. Rob arrives at the Aokigahara forest with a search party and Michi, determined to find Sara.
Aiden takes Sara to an old ranger station he claims he discovered while looking for her. Sara hears her sister's voice coming from a locked basement and finds a note which implies that Aiden is holding Jess captive there. Convinced that he is a threat, Sara attacks and kills Aiden with a small kitchen knife. As he dies, Sara realizes that Aiden was telling the truth and that the picture on his phone, the voice at the basement door, and the note had all been hallucinations.
In the basement of the ranger station, Sara sees a vision of the night her parents died. The ghost of her father suddenly appears and lunges toward her, grabbing her wrist. She cuts his fingers away from her wrist and escapes the station. Running into the forest, she sees Jess running toward the lights of the search party. Sara calls her sister, who is unable to hear her. She realizes that her escape from the ranger station was another hallucination. When she cut at her father's fingers she actually cut deep into her own wrists and is now dying from blood loss in the basement. As she succumbs to her wounds, the hands of a group of yūrei pull Sara beneath the forest floor. Jess, very much alive, is rescued by the search party and explains that the "feeling" of her sister is gone, and it is assumed that Jess knows Sara is dead. As the search party leaves, Michi suddenly sees a dark figure at the edge of the forest and realizes that it's Sara who has turned into a yūrei.
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Goyer came up with the idea after reading a Wikipedia article on Aokigahara. Surprised that a horror film had not been made about it he came up with a rough outline. After being pitched the idea, Zada instantly became attracted to it. He was most attracted to the fact that the "Suicide forest" in Aokigahara was a real place, which he became "obsessed with", reading as much information as he could about the location, including watching an online Vice documentary. Prior to shooting, Zada took a trip to Aokigahara as he felt "There's no way I felt that I could make a movie about a real place, and not go visit it." Zada had described the location as "...a very frightening place. It was not a place where I wanted to spend the night."
Dormer cited the opportunity to play two characters in one film enticed her to accept the role. "That's like a life tick box as an actor, to be playing against yourself. It's certainly surreal," she said. "(But) it's hard to make choices as Sara when you don't quite know how you're going to play it as Jess yet. You haven't got the other actor to react against. You have to be a bit schizophrenic."
Kinney cited a confluence of reasons for accepting the role: the story and its location, the ability to tweak his character, and the attachment of Dormer. He stated he was looking for something "more cerebral than gory slasher films", in the vein of The Shining.
Principal photography began on May 17, 2015, in Tokyo, Japan. As filming in the Aokigahara forest is not permitted by the government, the filmmakers chose a forest near the Tara Mountain in Serbia to double as the Japanese forest in which the film is set. Poor weather plagued the production in Serbia, and many scenes were shot in a former warehouse.
In May 2014, Focus Features acquired domestic distribution rights to the film. On May 20, 2015, Focus Features relaunched their Gramercy Pictures label for action, horror, and science-fiction movies, with the film being one of its releases. The film was released in the United States on January 8, 2016.
The Forest was released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 12, 2016.
The film was released on January 8, 2016, alongside the wide release of The Revenant. In its opening weekend, the film was projected to gross $8–10 million from 2,451 theaters. The film made $515,000 from its early Thursday screenings and $5 million on its first day, including Thursday's gross. The film grossed $12.7 million during its opening weekend, finishing fourth at the box office, behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($41.6 million), The Revenant ($38 million), and Daddy's Home ($15 million).
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 10% based on 136 reviews with an average rating of 4.10/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Forest offers Natalie Dormer more than a few chances to showcase her range in a dual role, but they aren't enough to offset the fact that the movie's simply not all that scary." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 34 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "generally unfavourable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C" on an A+ to F scale.
Brian Truitt of USA Today thought the movie was a "mostly scare-free zone," and gave it two out of four possible stars. He teased the premise of the movie, saying that "[i]t's OK to go into these woods because there's not much to get spooked by in The Forest, unless you're creeped out by the occasional Japanese schoolgirl." Comparing the film to some of its peers, he wrote the movie is "definitely a step up from screaming teenagers and some guy running through trees with a chainsaw," but expressed disappointment that the "film never makes the most of its conceit."
Peter Keough of The Boston Globe zeroed in on the writing as a source of fault, while approving of the acting and directing, writing that "Zada gets credible performances from Dormer and Kinney, but their characters undergo such unlikely psychological contortions that these efforts are to no avail." He echoed the complaints of most critics, saying "Had Zada strayed more from the generic path into such unknown territory, The Forest might have had genuine depth and darkness."
Alonso Duralde, writing for TheWrap, voiced these gripes as well, faulting the writing in saying, "By the time screenwriters Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell and Nick Antosca unpack the inevitable third-act reversals and twists, it's too little, too late, especially since those revelations rely upon an investment in the characters that the movie has expended too little effort in creating." He praised Dormer as well ("Dormer, for her part, invests herself in the proceedings, and manages to build two characters out of a script that barely bothers to give her one"), while panning that Kinney was ("so wooden here, he could be playing the title role").
Neil Genzlinger, writing for The New York Times, also praised Dormer's performance, while finding enough within the rest of the film's aspects to give the movie a positive review: "a decently executed creeper built around a convincing performance by Natalie Dormer." Justin Chang of Variety also allotted the film a positive review, writing, "Dormer is sympathetic enough in her double scream-queen roles, and Zada shows an occasional aptitude for generating suspense through framing, music and sound design, even if the beats he hits are often tediously familiar."
Slate's David Ehrlich said that the film's release date was the most significant indicator of its lack of quality. "Every year, during the first proper weekend of January, the studios' niche labels trot out the horror movies they know have nothing to contribute to society and leave them for dead in your local multiplex," he wrote. "[A]nybody with access to a calendar already knows that The Forest is bad; at this point, that's less of a presumption than it is a tradition." Keeping with the film's setting and themes, he likened the practice of releasing such films at that time of year to the supposed ancient Japanese custom of ubasute, in which elderly people who could no longer take care of themselves were abandoned to their fate on a mountain.
The film attracted controversy for what some believed to be trivializing the issue of suicide in Japan as well as disrespecting the people who have died in the real life forest. Critic Kevin Maher wrote in his review that "The Forest is a dumb and dreary horror movie that's notable only for its racial insensitivities, lack of horror, and for making Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones play identical twins distinguished only by hair colour."
The film's plot has been compared to the 2011 comic book The Suicide Forest, also taking place in the Aokigahara Forest, written by El Torres and illustrated by Gabriel Hernández.
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