15 – 95mins – 2016
IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY…
… You may bump into Margaery Tyrell, as Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer took a working holiday away from Highgarden in the Reach to journey deep into Japan’s infamous Aokigahara Forest – controversially renowned as a destination for the suicidal – to play the dual lead role of twins Sara and Jess in this taut and atmosphere psychological horror conceived by popular producer David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy).
Convinced her troubled sister, Jess – reported missing while teaching EFL in the East Asian country – is still alive, Sara Price flies out to the base of Mount Fuji and accepts the help of American journalist Aidan (Lady Gaga’s fiancé Taylor Kinney) in searching the vast, dangerous and largely uncharted forest floor, with the dubious assistance of local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa).
First time feature film director Jason Zada (famed for his digital marketing campaigns) makes effective use of a limited cast and the gloomy flora-drenched scenery of this real-world Mirkwood where fear and uncertainty can lead to distrust, confusion, paranoia and ghostly hallucinations of the dead (known in Japanese folklore as yūrei), vivid enough to break even the most robust spirit.
Unfairly ravaged by critics upon release at the start of the year, The Forest may not be the most strikingly unique or out-and-out scary horror film ever released, but the curiosity factor attached to its physical setting was enough to hook me into purchasing a ticket (to the cinema, I mean… you wouldn’t catch me camping alone in the “Sea of Trees” – especially not after dark!).
Thankfully Zada’s sharp eye for a striking shot means I almost feel like I have experienced as much of Aokigahara as my wits can bear! Furthermore, screenwriting trio Ben Katai, Nick Antosca and Sarah Cornwell’s predilection for layering tricksy psychological scares into a more rewarding and dramatically complex narrative makes for a refreshing departure from the genre’s lazy norm of profuse blood, guts ‘n’ slaughter in lieu of deeper character building.
As the potency of the gnarled and intimidating woodland surroundings lead Sara to question Aiden’s allegiance – as well as her own fragile sanity – I was really enjoying the trippy trek, peppered as it was with enough decent jump scares to keep me tense on the edge of my seat, even if the predictable rug-pull ‘twist’ of a resolution was a mite frustrating when I mulled things over on the drive home.