The premise of this film is really scary, and not just in the cheap jumps sense – though that’s what director Jason Zada employs here.
The story revolves around Japan’s Suicide Forest, the real life woodland where desperate people go to kill themselves. Natalie Dormer plays twins Sara and Jess Price, though we only really see troubled sister Jess in flashbacks.
Unlike Jess, who teaches English in Japan, Sara has a settled life in America with her partner Rob (Eoin Macken). That is until she gets a phone call saying Jess has gone missing, and was last seen going into the Suicide Forest.
The siblings share a strong bond, which stems from their parents being killed in brutal circumstances when they were kids. While Jess witnessed the bloody aftermath, Sara chose to keep her eyes closed.
Upon getting the phone call, Sara instinctively knows Jess isn’t dead. To prove it she flies to Japan to search for Jess, meeting handsome journalist Aiden (Taylor Kinney) in a bar not long after touching down.
Aiden appears to recognise her, but quickly shrugs off the mistake. He knows the forest well as he’s writing an article on it, and offers to help Sara navigate around the spooky woods with volunteer patrolman Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). While Sara seems slightly jarred by Aiden’s identity mix up, she’s too focused on the hunt for Jess to be fazed by it.
As the trio set off into the forest, Sara has a moment of hesitation when the group divert off the path. She’d earlier been told to stick to the track, but again her need to find Jess outweighs any fear. After coming across deserted tents and bodies hanging from trees, Sara finally finds her sister’s yellow tent, but not much else. As darkness sets in Michi signals it’s time to call it a day but Sara won’t leave the spot, deciding instead to stay in Jess’ tent and resume the hunt in the morning. Despite only meeting the day before, Aiden offers to bunk down with her, something Michi is vehemently against. When his message that the forest becomes dangerous at night falls on deaf ears, he makes them promise to stay put until he returns.
A fire is lit and all seems well, but things soon turn sinister as darkness descends. Michi warned Sara that things are not as they seem in the woods at night, but as well as scary school girls popping up, Aiden also makes Sara question her sanity. Is Sara’s life really in danger, or is it just a cruel trick played by the forest?
The setting of the film is seriously spooky, with the shots of Dormer literally walking into bodies hanging from trees during the daylight genuinely chilling. The mysteriousness of Kinney’s Aiden is also played well, but the films biggest downfall is its plunge into cheap screams. Of course they catch you out but the scare is only temporary and doesn’t leave any lasting fear. There’s no real suspense and the end feels rushed.
Dormer gets better as the film goes on, but isn’t instantly likeable. She’s a strong actress but doesn’t come across totally believable here. Kinney plays his part fairly well, as does Ozawa.
There’s an alternate theory doing the rounds that the film is actually about Sara’s mental state, and that Sara and Jess aren’t really twins but one person. Reflecting on the film with that in mind, the story actually becomes much more enjoyable!
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