Mount Fuji now has worldwide fame thanks to its World Heritage status, but less-known is the fact that some of the surrounding area — specifically the Aokigahara Jukai forest — is a suicide hot spot. This is common knowledge among Japanese, especially those who live in the Kanto area, but who would have thought Aokigahara would also gain international attention? Well, it’s happening thanks to an indie horror movie called “The Forest,” which is set for a Jan. 8 opening in the United States.
Directed by Jason Zada, “The Forest” follows Sara (Natalie Dormer), whose twin sister, Jess (Dormer), went for a trek around Mount Fuji and disappeared. Sara senses something awful has happened to her sister and flies to Tokyo. She tries to hire a guide to take her into Aokigahara but is told by the locals that the forest is dangerous and there are no guides. However, friendly foreign dude Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and knowledgeable English speaker Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) agree to help. They find Jess’ tent but no sign of its occupant and, from there, “The Forest” heads into “Blair Witch” territory.
This is not a bad thing, necessarily. However, “The Forest” could have used a salient pointer from that film: Go easy on the ghosts and let the forest ambience speak for itself. As it is, “The Forest” comes off like a theme-park haunted house, complete with laughable skeletons that drop down from branches and look like they were purchased from the party costume aisle in Tokyu Hands. Perhaps next time, Zada and his crew should spend less time on shopping for props.