Imagine a Japanese horror film called The Bridge, in which a man travels to San Francisco after hearing that his troubled twin brother was last seen on the Golden Gate Bridge—notoriously a spot where people go to kill themselves. He learns from a string of kooky, panic-mongering locals that people often hear voices or see bad things while on the bridge, and that demons can latch themselves on to your sadness and trick you into doing awful things. But he gets a native guide to take him there, and embarks on a journey where he has visions of giggling, demented American school girls, and is chased by angry spirits who were among the more than 1,600 people whose lives were unwittingly claimed by the bridge.
If this movie existed, and thank goodness it doesn’t, it would’ve been a disaster in all the ways The Forest is. The new horror film, directed by Jason Zada, stars Natalie Dormer as Sarah, a young American woman who travels to Japan because her psychic twin sense tells her that her sister, Jess, is in trouble. It turns out Jess, who has a history of mental illness, has gone into the Aokigahara Forest, known also as the Sea of Trees or, in catchier parlance, “The Suicide Forest.” With the help of a hot travel writer who materializes in a bar (Taylor Kinney) and a wise but timid Japanese guide, Sarah decides to search for Jess herself, despite all the warnings that spooky things happen to those who stray off the path. The Forest does a lot of things in its 95-minute run: It drags, it makes fun of weird Japanese food, it has Jess trip and fall precisely one million times, it piles on the jump scares. But crucially, it doesn’t make the slightest sincere effort to portray the Aokigahara forest with the respect or sensitivity that such a real-life place deserves.