For a January horror release, the criteria is relatively low. The Forest manages to nosedive below those modest goals with a snail’s pace and an overreliance on jump scares. The Aokigahara Forest in Japan (which is renowned for the inordinate amount of suicide along its serpentine path) is a setting tailor-made for ghost stories but if Gus Van Sant can’t wrangle the material into anything overtly elegiac, it’s a Herculean task for any other filmmaker.
Jason Zada is clearly ambivalent about Natalie Dormer’s transformative abilities when her twin sisters are distinguished by diametrical cosmetics, clothes and attitudes (brunette vs blond, goth vs puritan, etc.). The overlapping fast-track from the airport to a hotel rendezvous with reporter Aiden (Taylor Kinney), elucidates that Zada’s editing skills are very choppy and he is not a commander of flow. Much like a haunted-house picture, a lot of scenes consist of characters traipsing through the woods and an underground cavern in search of their counterparts only to be startled by blaringly loud sound effects.
Instead of being genuinely terrifying, the effect is one of incessant irritation. It’s also dispiriting how doltish Sara is when she suspects Aiden of being an accessory to Jess’ disappearance. The nihilistic J-horror switcheroo at the ending as to which twin actually committed seppuku in the first place is honestly hollow when it has no bearing for a reinterpretation of everything that has preceded it. Thankfully by being the first horror movie out of the gate in 2016, the year can only escalate higher from what it is a soporific, poorly jumbled maze of foliage.
Rating: .5 out of 5