The Forest (2016)

Directed by Jason Zada

movie cinema horror review

In this horror movie, Sara Price travels to Japan to look for her identical twin sister Jess, who was last seen wandering around in the Aokigahara forest near Mount Fuji. Everybody fears the worse, because Aokigahara is said to be a popular destination for people considering suicide. There's a lot of local superstition about it. As Sara prepares for her trek into the forest, the townsfolk talk of ghosts and madness.

Sara finally enters the forest, along with an American named Aiden she meets at the pub, and a ranger named Michi. The forest must sell suicide permits and how-to guides, because Sara and her companions come across a lot of places where there are signs of people having died. They even find a fresh body hanging from a tree. And they come across a guy camped near the path, and Michi says people who bring a tent are only contemplating suicide, but are as yet undecided. I'm hoping this is all heavily fictional, because if not maybe Aokigahara should just be cleared for fire wood just to save lives.

Eventually, they find Jess's tent, and Sara decides to stay on site until Jess returns. Michi is adamantly opposed, saying that the forest is dangerous as night because of ghosts and stuff. He says the forest tricks you into seeing and believing things.

The horror

As horror goes, the plot leans pretty heavily into two things. One is the identical twin trope. I should hunt down a book or essay on this, but I do wonder what it says about us that we so often make identical twins seem almost supernatural in stories. I found myself wondering about the identical twin gimmick from the moment Sara said she had an identical twin. Knowing it's a horror movie, I immediately questioned whether she really even had an identical twin. And then, as the movie cut from Sara in the USA talking about her trip to Japan and then to Sara in Japan making her way toward the town at the foot of Mount Fuji, I wondered whether the movie was sneakily showing us Jess in a way that only made us think we were seeing Sara. They're identical, so how do we know we're seeing one or the other?

Secondly, the movie walks the old line of "is it supernatural or is it all in her mind?" pretty heavily. Throughout the film, Sara is the only one to see ghosts in the forest. She becomes more and more suspicious of Aiden, until finally she convinces herself, and probably you too, that he's not only met Jess before, but has also captured her and stashed her in a secret hideaway. There's never any evidence of this, but by the end of the movie you really do start to wonder, even as you also wonder whether there's even a twin at all, or whether there are twins but they've already somehow swapped places.

There are a few good jump scares, if you're into that sort of thing, and a lot of general spookiness. It's not a slasher film, it's a spooky and sometimes jarring stroll through the forest, with an unreliable narrator who ends up a murderer and probably a suicide victim.

Plot points

Some plot details were a little confusing.

At one point, we do see photos of Jess on Aiden's cell phone, but we only see it while Sara is looking at the screen so it could be that we're only seeing what Sara's mind has told her she sees.

Later, there's a supernatural or delusional sequence in which Sara finds her [un]dead father. I was positive, for several seconds anyway, that the implication was that Sara and Jess's father hadn't died in a car crash as Sara had claimed, but that he'd murdered Jess, as a young child, and her mother, and then himself. I thought Sara had invented the story of the car crash, and the story of Jess beyond childhood, as a defense against some horrible murder suicide of which she'd been the sole survivor. But as the movie continued, it became clear that this wasn't the intention, and that it had just been generic horror strife.

That's the trouble with "it was all in her head" horror, I guess. You can use it to explain anything away because nothing has to be real. Maybe Aiden didn't exist at all. Maybe Aiden did exist but left with Michi instead of staying with Sara at the tent. Maybe Jess wasn't real. Maybe Sara turned into Jess. Who knows? Maybe this wasn't even a horror movie.


I love a good soundtrack. The music is by Bear McCreary, who wrote the excellent score for the Battlestar Galactica (2004) TV series. It's a good score, and I'd buy it were it available.

Pretty good

Well, it was a horror movie. Lots of creepy stuff, a couple of jump scares, a dark theme, a dark ending. I probably won't watch this one again, just because there's nothing strong pulling me back to it, but I'm glad I saw it.

Lead photo by Anika De Klerk on Unsplash

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