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The Forest' is All Bark and No Fright

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The first wide release film of 2016 is a supernatural thriller about Japan's Aokigahara Forest. Does "The Forest" make for a frightening experience, or does it just leave the viewer cold?

A group of schoolchildren read signs posted in the dense woods of the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji Thursday, Oct. 22, 1998. The sprawling forest, a favorite among day-trippers from Tokyo, is also one of the country s most popular destinations for the suicidal - and growing more popular. This year a record 58 bodies have already been found and authorities expect the 1998 total to top 70. Officials attribute the surge to the economic slump as Japan weathers its worst recession in decades. The sign at right reads: "Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Once again, try to remember your parents, brothers and sisters and think about your children." (AP Photo/Atsushi Tsukada)

**The following is an in-depth review of “The Forest” and does contain spoilers.**

Set inthe real-life most popular suicide site in Japan, and the third most popular in the world, "The Forest" touted an interesting premise full of much potential.

Unfortunately, it fails to deliver.

"The Forest" follows a young American woman named Sara who journeys to Japan in search of her missing twin sister, Jess. She is told that her sister was last seen going into the Aokigahara Forest, and that she hadn't been seen since. She is also told of the forest's connection to suicides.

A group of schoolchildren read signs posted in the dense woods of the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji Thursday, Oct. 22, 1998. The sprawling forest, a favorite among day-trippers from Tokyo, is also one of the country's most popular destinations for the suicide - and growing more popular. The sign at right reads: "Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Once again, try to remember your parents, brothers and sisters and think about your children." (AP Photo/Atsushi Tsukada)

While in Japan Sara meets another American, a journalist named Aiden. Aiden is writing a story on the forest and invites Sara to come with he and his guide for a tour of the forest. Aiden hopes to use Sara's quest for Jess as part of his story, and Sara agrees to cooperate in exchange for the help in finding her sister.

The guide, Michi, escorts them through the forest and they find the body of a recent suicide as well as a few campers. Part of Michi's job as a member of the parks service is to talk with campers in the forest and try to talk them out of committing suicide, if that's their intention.

As nightfall begins to approach, Michi suggests they leave and come back tomorrow. Around the same time they happen upon Jess' campsite, and Sara refuses to leave the forest. Sara explains that, as twins, her sister and she have an almost psychic connection and that she can feel that her sister isn't dead. Aiden decides to stay and look after her. Reluctantly, Michi leaves them behind and says he will return for them tomorrow.

During the night Sara happens across a teenage Japanese girl in the forest while Aiden is sleeping. The Japanese girl claims to have met Jess in the forest and that Jess told her that Aiden isn't to be trusted. The Japanese girl says that Jess had met Aiden before and reiterates that Sara should not trust him, and then she runs off.

The next morning Sara begins to become suspicious of everything Aiden does, and at one point forces him to hand over his cell phone to her. While looking through the phone Sara comes across several pictures of Jess, despite Aiden's claims that he never met her.

The film goes back and forth from Aiden helping Sara to her being suspicious of his motivations. At one point Aiden leads Sara to an abandoned ranger station. In the ranger station is a locked door, and Sara can hear Jess calling to her from the other side of the door. Jess passes a note to Sara from under the door which says that Aiden has the key to the door and that he is going to kill them both.

Sara confronts Aiden about the key, which leads to a confrontation. During the confrontation Sara stabs Aiden, killing him. Sara finds the key to the room, but Jess isn't inside. Instead, Sara sees her dead parents who were killed when she and Jess were very young. The image of her dead father's body grabs her wrist and Sara uses the knife she just killed Aiden with to cut herself loose from the "corpse."

The movie flashes to Jess who is actually still alive and in the forest. Jess senses something in the forest and begins to run. What she sensed was Sara, who is now chasing her sister through the forest, compelling her to stop. Jess doesn't seem to hear her.

Jess sees a search party, who Michi brought to look for Sara, and runs toward it. The still pursuing Sara is intercepted by the Japanese teenager. The girl points to Sara's wrists, which are bleeding. Sara had slashed her own wrists in the ranger station.

When Jess reaches the rescue party she looks back to the forest. She can no longer feel her psychic link to Sara and she knows that Sara died in the forest.

While "The Forest" offered a promising storyline, the final product is neither scary or interesting. While a few scares hit their mark, there are many more tha fall flat. The movie is very slow and boring through the majority of the first two acts, leaving the audience more interested in the time than the film. It feels very padded, almost as though it would have been better suited as an episode of "The Twilight Zone" than an actual feature film.

The biggest highlight of the movie was the performance of "Game of Thrones" actress Natalie Dormer. Her performances as both Sara and Jess are so natural that it is often hard to tell that both characters are, in fact, the same actress.

Producer David S. Goyer has compared the plot of "The Forest" with the film "The Shining." The difference is that "The Shining" actually told a story that engaged the viewer as they were drawn in to Jack Torrence's slow drift toward madness. "The Forest" fails to do that. Instead, the viewer is often left second guessing what, in fact, the movie is trying to tell them.

By the end of the film the viewer is left with many threads that were never given closure. Was Aiden really a bad guy, or did Sara murder an innocent man? Yes, she saw pictures of Jess in his phone, but they could have been hallucinations like the other things she saw in the forest. It is never made clear what the film's intentions are.

It's also never explained where Jess was in the forest. If she was alive, why did she not go back to her campsite? If she was lost, why couldn't she find her way out of the forest, being as close to the edge as she was?

"The Forest" was a unscary disappointment. The viewer is in no danger of being kept up at night after seeing this movie.

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