How “The Forest” was (Almost) Awesome

While 2016’s The Forest was a box office success (grossing over $30 million on a $10 million budget), it wasn’t without its controversy and poor critical reviews.

I remember seeing it back when it first came out a few years ago, and after re-watching it on Netflix very recently, it left the impression of a movie that had great potential, but squandered it.

It’s not necessarily a bad movie. It does employ a few compelling film techniques, but it could have been great.

So rather than bash it or reiterate was critics in 2016, I thought it would be productive to focus on what it could have done to be better.

More Authentic
Aokigahara is one of the most famous locations in all of Japan, one whose folklore is both iconic and depressing.

And there are a surprising few movies made it about it. In addition to The Forest, there was 2015’s Sea of Trees with Matthew McConaughey (which was more of a mystery/drama).

Both of these were American productions, and the lack of authenticity really shows, especially with The Forest. Given its relevance in Japan, it feels like the story should have been told from a Japanese perspective.

It would have felt much more authentic had it been a foreign film in Japanese. Or at the very least, it could have made use of the “stranger in a strange land” theme, something that The Grudge remake did a particularly good job with.

The Grudge may have had an American protagonist, but her feeling isolated in a foreign country was very much part of the tension, even before she entered the haunted house.

Real Issues
Perhaps the reason why there’s been so few movies (especially in Japan) is given the sensitive nature of Aokigahara, and what it ultimately represents.

YouTuber Logan Paul received a great deal of criticism when he did a video from the forest, one which showed the dead body of someone who had allegedly committed suicide.

Many audiences felt that it was insensitive to show something like that, and to trivialize the very real mental health issues associated with suicide. Likewise, The Forest too, was criticized for such sensationalist insensitivity, but could there have been a better way?

Horror films have dealt with complex social/political issues in the past. And while The Forest does hint at the character Jess suffering from anxiety, it doesn’t really delve into this.

In hindsight, Jess probably should have been the main character, which would have allowed the film to explore these ideas better.

Maybe for a film of this nature, dealing with this subject matter, the mental health aspect should have been just as prevalent as the supernatural one.

“R” Rating
To some, a “PG-13” rating is the bane of all horror films. And while there can be some truly great ones with this rating (Insidious, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Ring, etc.), for the most part, they tend to be jump-scare riddled exercises in teen horror with very little substance or theme.

Sadly, The Forest definitely falls into this category. The titular forest is described as a place where vengeful ghosts come out to torment those who enter, but the most we get is bad CGI creations jumping out to startle us.

Make no mistake, Aokigahara and all that it entails is a truly disturbing subject. And a film portraying it needs to be equally disturbing, both out of respect to the grim reality that it represents, and also in order to simply be a better film.

In a movie about a frightening place, it surprisingly lacks any sense of atmosphere.

Going for an “R” rating would have allowed the film to take things much further. It would have explored darker ideas, and presented a much more frightening and compelling piece of cinema.

At its core, The Forest isn’t a terrible movie by any means. It just feels dull and a bit forgettable, which is almost worse for a horror movie. Had the filmmakers infused more of these ideas, perhaps it would have been more memorable and iconic.

What did you think of The Forest? Was it scary, or well put together? Was it insensitive with its subject matter? What could have been better? Let us know in the comments!

The Forest is currently streaming on Netflix

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