Movie Review: 'The Forest' (2016)

“Game of Thrones” alum Natalie Dormer stars as an American who travels to Japan’s Suicide Forest to find her missing twin sister. What follows is a mix between human-made suspense and a supernatural thriller. As Dormer’s Sara ignores all reason to locate her sister, eventually drawing a travel journalist (Taylor Kinney) and perceptive guide (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) into her plight.

It is easy to empathize with Sara, one half of a contrasting, identical twin combo. She is the long-suffering sister of her troubled counterpart, Jess. Recently, Jess had been getting her life together, teaching English in Japan.

It is during a school field trip that she disappears. The assumption is made that since she vanished in Aokigahara (the Suicide Forest), she stayed to commit suicide. A frantic Sara does not believe it and packs her bags, determined to find her sister. 

At first she hits several dead ends before encountering the enthusiastic Aiden (Kinney). She agrees to be a part of an article he wants to write about her case, in exchange for his help. With a deal struck, the two set off on a mission with Michi (Ozawa), the guide. It is not long before visions of ghosts and angry spirits begin to haunt Sara. They appear to her, even before she enters the reputedly haunted forest.

It is the beginning of the movie toying with whether what you are witnessing is “real” or not. Is it supernatural or the product of someone becoming psychologically unglued? Or is Sara being hunted by a living presence, working in a sinister capacity? You have to stay tuned to find out. 

Director Jason Zada keeps the pace moving and the story unfolding with newfound revelations around every bend. “The Forest” is not a boring movie, by any means. It incorporates the 3 plot mainstays that comprise the mystery thriller genre with remarkable ease. Its unexpected mix of the 3 infusing the movie with an unpredictability factor it would have otherwise lacked.

The dynamic of Sara and Jess’ complicated relationship is also well-handled. Thanks in large part to actress Natalie Dormer, you get a strong sense of who each of these sisters are and you believe their bond. Dormer’s ability to play the polar characters is impressive. As always, she provides a watchable performance in both roles and even more importantly likable ones.

On paper Sara could be interpreted as frustratingly stubborn, unable to accept an obvious scenario. However, Dormer makes Sara’s desperation and resolve, palatable. Likewise, she gets one to care about the thornier sister, Jess. Dormer is not alone.

Taylor Kinney makes for an equally charismatic figure and he and Dormer play off each other, splendidly. Their natural on-screen rapport is essential to selling both halves of the movie and they do.

What makes “The Forest” stand out is how innately likable its central characters are. It is a quality it shares in common with 2014’s “Honeymoon”, which incidentally stars fellow “Game of Thrones” alum Rose Leslie.

As “The Forest” heads towards its ending, questions arise as to whether, it will end on the same enigmatic note “Honeymoon” did. The former ends with a more definitive finale. One that is also bolder than the typical movie of its kind.

“The Forest” never wanders around aimlessly and for that it curries favor. The problem is that it leaves a lot of unanswered question in the wake of its expedition. As the audience is left to fill in the missing pieces to the plot, they should not have too.

To its credit, it never loses sight of its central mystery: Is Jess alive? And if she still is, does she want to be found? These compelling questions are what make it easy to get lost in “The Forest”. Rating: 6.5/10

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