The first film of 2016 should have been shot before it exited the paddock. Not only would it have been merciful, it would have saved me from 90 minutes of sheer tedium. Contrary to popular belief, a horror film can be many things — scary, creepy, atmospheric, funny, subversive, clever, silly, campy, ridiculously over-the-top — and succeed on any of those levels or a combination of them. Jason Zada’s The Forest is none of those. Instead, it’s just plain boring. It’s almost impossible to critique for the simple reason that there’s so little to it.
The film (which astonishingly took three people to write) starts off by establishing its ho-hum premise that “good” twin Sara (Natalie Dormer) has become convinced her “troubled” twin Jess (also Dormer, who has quite enough trouble playing one character) has met with some misfortune in Japan. As luck (and convenient scripting) would have it, Jess has disappeared in Aokigahara Forest, a popular destination for suicides. (This much is true.) But Sara knows that Jess is alive, because she has one of those psychic connections so common to identical twins in popular fiction. Naturally — against the grim warnings of absolutely everyone — she hops on a plane to Japan to prowl the forest for Jess. (In movies, people always have enough money to do this sort of thing.)
That’s the set-up. What follows amounts to not much. The movie futzes around for a while, then rewards us with dream sequences, flashbacks and the odd “Boogie! Boogie! Boogie!” shock effect of unusually low wattage. That’s pretty much it. Once the film actually makes it to the forest, the only thing that changes is the location, and the movie starts playing a completely botched game of “Truth or Illusion” with us. The problem — aside from the movie’s inability to make you give a damn about any of these paper doll characters — is that the film itself doesn’t seem to have a clue what is or isn’t true. There’s some hooey about repressed childhood memories that add up to very little, and a bleak ending that I guess is meant to be disturbing. It isn’t. The sheer relief of knowing it’s finally over outweighs all else.
Normally, I try to find some scrap of something in a movie that is somehow redeeming. That’s hard to do with The Forest. The performances are pretty much strictly of the kind that separates TV stars from movie stars. That is, watching them on TV is one thing, actually paying to see them in a theater is quite another. The direction is … let’s call it uninspired. I can, however, note that it is largely in focus. It might rate a place on lists of awful movies for 2016, except that no one is likely to remember it two weeks from now, let alone a full year later. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images.