“DO NOT LEAVE THE PATH!”
Ever since Sara showed up at the famed Aokigahara forest, looking for her missing twin sister, that’s all she’s heard. Over and over.
Maybe it’s something about the Japanese culture that she just doesn’t get as a Westerner, but every single person she meets seems completely obsessed with the ancient superstitions swirling around the place that locals call “the suicide forest.” They are utterly convinced that this thick, dark wood at the foot of Mt. Fuji is haunted by the spirits of the dead.
Legends about the grim woods’ origin recall desperate times long ago when the infirm and the elderly were cruelly abandoned there to die. And to this day, people show up at this infamous forest to commit suicide in the depths of its sea of trees.
But, frankly, Sara has never been much of a believer in such ghostly mumbo-jumbo. What she has believed in is the almost spiritual connection she shares with her twin sister, Jess. And even though people saw Jess trek off into these woods, and they’re equally certain that she must now be dead, Sara knows—without a doubt—that her sis is still alive and is simply lost in the dense, supposedly haunted forest.
Sara can feel her presence, you see. It’s like a sound that’s too low to actually hear. But it’s a vibrating note that has always connected them. And it’s still there. So Jess is still alive, Sara’s convinced.
But why would she trundle off into a such a macabre place? Well, that’s easy. You see, Jess always was the dark sort. She would look at the ugly and terrible dark things of life that Sara always turned away from. If anything, she figures Jess probably plunged into the beautiful-but-foul forest to exorcise her own personal demons by facing the make-believe ones in this eerie place.
Now Jess just needs a bit of sisterly love and guidance to find her way back. After all, that’s always been Sara’s role in their relationship: throwing out the life preserver when her twin sinks in too deep.
To fulfill that role this time, all Sara has to do is to take that first fateful step … and leave the forest path.
Sara never hesitates in trying to help her prodigal sister—even though that means traveling 6,000 miles to Japan to do so. Sara also refuses to stop calling out for Jess in the forest, no matter how horrifying the obstacles she encounters along the way.
Sara eventually meets a guy named Aiden who joins her on the quest to find her sister. He does so at first for his own somewhat selfish reasons. But eventually Aiden puts his well-being on the line to help Sara out.
Nasty supernatural forces are at play in the forest. We’re told that someone’s sadness will be used in terrible ways against that person by the corrupting spirits in the dark wood. Aiden adds that certain caves in the Aokigahara forest are reportedly gateways to the land of the dead.
These rumors and premonitions play out in a variety of twisted, demonic-like interactions. For instance, Sara witnesses multiple visions involving Jess and their deceased parents that play gruesomely on her fear of suicide. Sara also meets a lost Japanese schoolgirl in the ominous forest who eventually morphs into a slavering ghoul.
Sara displays some cleavage.
Early on, we see pictures of corpses that were found in the forest. And those kinds of visuals get more frequent once Sara steps into the dank wood (and off the path, of course). Numerous bodies hang by their necks from tree branches, and a group of shambling corpses pulls a woman into the ground.
Sara falls and gashes open the palm of her hand, and we’re shown a close-up of the bleeding wound. A man with a gushing head injury drags himself across a floor. A woman slashes her wrist. Someone gets stabbed in the chest with a small knife and bleeds to death. A man and woman are shown lying in pools of blood next to a shotgun.
Sara talks of Jess attempting suicide twice before. And she tells the story of her parents’ death at the hands of a drunk driver.
Two or three s-words. More than a half-dozen misuses of Jesus’ and God’s names (one of which is combined with “d–n”).
Sara drinks alcohol in a Japanese bar. There, she meets Aiden, who downs several beers. We see a photo of Jess with a beer in hand. And Sara discovers a bottle of Jess’ prescription anxiety medication.
Japan’s Aokigahara forest, where dozens of people travel every year in a bleak life-ending quest, is a real place. This densely treed, oppressively verdant wood is a decidedly creepy movie backdrop all on its own. Add in repeated references to evil spirits, groaning and screaming sound effects and the sporadic appearances of strange Japanese schoolgirls in the dead of night, and you’d assume this would be a pretty scary movie.
Not so much, really.
Oh, sure, there are hanging corpses, self-harming delusions and jump scenes aplenty in this pointless pic. Mostly, though, The Forest shambles around mindlessly, zombie-like, in its own shadowy illogic. And the resulting jumbled narrative feels as confusing and unnavigable—not to mention spiritually misguided—as the suicide forest itself.
So if you’re reading this while standing in the line for some other film and you wonder if a side trip to The Forest might be a better choice, I have but one piece of advice: DO NOT LEAVE THE PATH!
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.