The Forest Parent Review
The Aokigahara Forest's reputation for suicide is exploited as Hollywood attempts to extract entertainment from it. The violent horror is hokey yet disturbing as it incorporates elements of self-harm.
The old nursery rhyme tells us, “If you go out in the woods today you’re in for a big surprise.” Well, you’ll probably need to be under 18 years of age to find a surprise in this forest. However, as hokey as this little horror movie is, parents need to be aware that some major disturbing elements of the plot are rooted in reality.
Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) immediately hops a plane to Japan after receiving word her identical twin sister Jess (also played by Dormer) has gone missing in the Aokigahara Forest. When the locals hear where Jess was headed, they are convinced the young woman was intending to kill herself, because, sadly, that is a very popular reason for visiting this real location. But Sara, who claims she can always feel the presence of her sibling, is convinced Jess is still alive. Arriving at the entry to the woods, she comes across a shack where an all-too friendly information lady happily shows her the latest bodies that have been discovered. None are Jess, yet it drives home the point that bad things happen in the Aokigahara.
Finding a shabby hotel for the night, Sara meets Aiden (Taylor Kinney), an Australian journalist who came to see the forest for himself but has now become more interested in Sara’s tale of terror. With all the nearby neighbors telling Sara not to stray from the pathways, the determined woman happily takes up Aiden’s offer to join him on a private tour he had previously arranged with Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), a local guide.
The trio begins their trek the next morning with Michi delivering an ominous warning not to believe anything bad that the pair might see. (Unfortunately this admonition doesn’t seem to apply to a corpse hanging from a tree, which Michi and Aiden release from its entangling ropes.)
Their journey resumes and soon leads them to a yellow tent with contents that confirm it belongs to Jess’s. Recalling Michi’s earlier observation that those who bring a tent still have not decided their fate, Sara is even more certain her sister can be found. However, her determination to stay over night is met with desperate pleas to reconsider.
Of course, our female heroine will win the argument and Aiden will be the man who volunteers to protect her. We also know Michi’s firm instructions to stay put so he can find them the next morning will fall on deaf ears.
Sure enough, the near sleepless night sees Sara wander from the camp and into the woods where she meets what can best be described as Sailor Moon in need of a shower. This Japanese teenager continues to appear and acts as bait to keep Sara (and the awakened Aiden) wandering… for hours… in circles… through the enchanted woods with the hope of finding Jess. As the time goes by, we see Sara become increasingly anxious over past events in her life and decreasingly able to trust that Aiden is a friend and not a foe. Before long we are not sure which of these sisters is more disturbed.
The movie contains ‘jump” scenes, lots of ghoulish corpses and other scary sights. While these depictions are likely expected, a stabbing along with the disturbing details of a psychotic murder and attempts at self-mutilation may not be. The script also contains a few mild profanities and terms of deity.
For me the most disturbing aspect of this film is its exploitation of the Aokigahara Forest’s real world reputation. In a country that struggles with a relatively high suicide rate, Japanese authorities have decided to quit publishing the number of deaths that occur there. Yet Hollywood can’t resist making a movie that incites curiosity and attempts to extract entertainment from this morbid situation. I can only hope young people who are susceptible to themes and stories involving suicide and self-mutilation will stay far away from these woods.Directed by Jason Zada. Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa. Running time: 93 minutes. Updated April 25, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Forest here.
The Forest Parents Guide
Learn more about the real Aokigahara Forest and the rumors about this woods that seems haunted by suicidal thoughts. (Note that this website discusses suicide and depicts locations where a suicide may have happened.)
Scholarly research has determined that portrayals and announcements of suicide may act as a stimulus for those who are at risk. The US National Institute of Health offers a report on this issue that may contain valuable information or parents, caregivers and friends.