Dormer’s star attempts to rise, limited by filmmakers

It’s upsetting The Forest was made by the people that made it. It has all the elements of a spectacular psychological horror, but it falls flat in almost every possible way.

Far and away the biggest thing holding this movie back is the creature design. Everything looks like it’s come directly from Party City. Photos courtesy Gramercy Pictures.

The movie follows Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) as she flies to Japan in pursuit of her twin sister, Jess (also Dormer). Jess has gone into Aokigahara Forest, an extremely popular real-life suicide destination said to be infested with demons that can look into hikers’ hearts, find their fear and sadness and cause them to kill themselves even if they change their minds. Sara knows Jess is still alive, and goes in after her. Torturous hallucinations force her to face the darkness in her past.

The Forest is like a symphony played in the wrong key, or a famous riff performed on a guitar that is badly out of tune. The movie is always aiming for the correct note, but never hits it.

Everything is off. Way off. The blocking is lazy. The dialogue is bumbling and heavy-handed. The editing is choppy. The montage of Sara packing at the beginning is an immediate example — every shot needs a split second more to breathe and communicate. In the only double-Dormer scene, a flashback early in the movie, the shot/reverse shot reverses in an entirely different rhythm from the dialogue, creating constant confusion for the audience as to which character they’re supposed to be focusing on.

Ostensibly a horror movie, The Forest isn’t remotely scary. Almost all scares are simple jumps, many of which aren’t even related to the plot. They’re simply thrown in because someone decided the movie needed a scare at that moment to keep viewers happy. The creature design is horrifically lazy.

Jump scares are the worst. They’re one of the least effective things a movie can do to be scary, but they can be done quite well in conjunction with other factors. However, it feels like a lot of modern horror movies are built exclusively on jump scares and don’t even execute those scares properly. Writers are too lazy to come up with something truly scary, and directors are too lazy to execute the not-scary thing in a scary-as-possible way.

Sara is partially accompanied during her foray by park ranger Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) and journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney), but their roles are small and primarily for convenience. This is another thing that would have helped Dormer — having someone to play against in more scenes, and having that someone be better than Kinney.

But that’s not the case here. Writers Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai came up with a tragic story about dealing with trauma and fighting for family, and director Jason Zada did a great job shooting that part of the movie. When asked how her parents died, Sara describes them being hit by a drunk driver in detail, but that scene is intercut with what really happened — her father killed her mother and himself in the basement with the twins in the next room. Jess is the first downstairs to see the grisly aftermath, but Sara is shooed away by their grandmother. The guilt of not sharing that trauma with her sister, who has tried to kill herself twice before, haunts Sara and drives her through the movie. Shots of the camera slowly zooming toward the basement door, of Jess at the bottom of the stairs shot from the top and of Sara slowly descending to finally face her nightmare recur throughout the film.

But scattered in between are these poorly edited jump scares that nobody really wanted to do.

The Forest pulled in $13 million last weekend, despite opening against the hotly anticipated Revenant and the continued presence of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It occupies what has become a standard spot for PG-13 horror after Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and The Woman in Black 2 opened to similar numbers in the first weekends in January of 2014 and ’15, respectively. Both of those movies were sequels, however. In many ways, The Forest, with its general lack of marketing and awareness, validates the slot.

There is one distinct draw to this movie, however — Dormer. She’s already a huge sex symbol, and most of the world wants her to be an equally huge star. She’s not a bad actress by any stretch, but she’s still got a lot to prove before she gets success to match her allure. Shit lines and jarring editing stop her from proving much here. You can count on one hand the number of scenes in which she’s actually free to act, but she’s good in those scenes. The box office proves people will come out to see her, though, so she’s got that on her side. Hopefully her next production will feature a brain trust with people you’ve heard of.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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