By Joshua Vaughan
In the film world, there are two genres which stand out as the most difficult to get right. The first is comedy, and the second is horror. The Forest certainly takes all of its elements from the latter, and has some discernible success (and fun) with it.
For a genre once so saturated in dense psychological and supernatural dread, with classics such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, it is disappointing to the see the likes of Paranormal Activity enjoying the rewards of bad screenwriting and the influence of fad-culture. Long-gone are the days of crucifix masturbation and “your-mother-sucks-cocks-in-hell” quips, replaced by flashing lights in hallways and cats jumping out of dustbins. Never before have had cats enough air-time to be nominated for Oscars.
So, without further ado, the 21st Century brings us our newest passable horror film in The Forest, starring Natalie Dormer as both Sara and Jess Price, twin sisters joined by a symbiotic “humming” noise. Once Jess goes into the Aokigahara Forest, Japan, where residents know it to be a place where people carry out their own suicide, it is up for Sara to rescue her sister, and discover the evil lurking in the forest around her.
With hues from the likes of The Blair Witch Project, The Evil Dead and even moments reminiscent of The Omen, The Forest finds its successes not in the jump-scares which it boasts, but in the psychological twists which the narrative undertakes. Although these are largely unexplained, pinned by a tour guide as the forest making you “see things, bad things”, there is an element of suspense which, unfortunately, usually leads to another jumpy part, which the film doesn’t need.
The formula is simple: exposition, quiet, quiet, BANG, exposition, quiet, quiet, BANG. The characters are simple: a can-do-nothing-wrong yet unfortunately naïve female protagonist, a shifty-but-attractive side-guy and a “helpful” tour-guide who doesn’t really do his job all that well. The scares are simple: the occasional masked figure lurking in the background, a laughable GCI ghost-face which pops up in the dark and the odd trip or crunch of branches which creek behind the protagonist. All the while, we are left wondering where the story is going. The director was probably wondering the same.
Although the acting is dependable, and the sense of dread disposed for a cheap jump-scare, it is a film which in this day and age, stands on its own two feet; albeit limping along. In an era where a film like Annabelle has the same admission price, I am thankful that creative ideas like The Forest still exist, despite its dependency on clichés.
So, What Does This Mean?
Despite the fact that The Forest was half-dependable, there is still the jargon in the film industry that the only good 21st Century horror films are either: (a) well-financed reboots, (b) thrillers which can be called horrors or (c) are foreign independent films which (luckily) are seen by enough people to pull it from obscurity. In a day and age where the Internet is a major feature of our lives, it is harder to find things scary. That is why jump-scares and bloody gore are so beaten to death, and why psychological scares are harder to come by; film industries are lazy, and directors don’t want to mess with the formula.
With the likes of The Boy coming out, which was one of the more anticipated horror films of this year, it is clear to see that the genre needs a shakeup. This doesn’t include rebooting old franchises (I’m looking at you Carrie, The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw 3D). Although some slip the woodwork, like Goodnight Mommy, The Babadook, The Witch and The Conjuring, these films are few and far between. With up to five Superhero films coming out every year, and even more comedy movies hitting the big screen, the demand for horror (and the expectations for it) is slipping away from our big screens. The reasons are two-fold: (a) horror films are age-exclusive, so they make less money, and (b) the rarity of good horror films is starting to make companies nervous to make them. Horror fans have never had it so hard.
Horror films coming out this year include The Conjuring 2 (judging from the trailer, likely to be just another O.K. horror sequel), The Purge: Election Year (another thriller passing as a horror), Amityville: The Awakening (oh boy, another Amityville film), Leatherface (another Texas Chainsaw reboot film), Ouija 2 (because we all need more after the first one) and Emelie (another babysitter horror). Don’t mind me if I just switch off an entire genre for a year; it seems that 2016 already has.