By Jennifer Vásquez
The Forest is a horror-thriller film about a woman named Sara who discovers that her twin sister Jesse Price went missing in a forest in Japan. Knowing this she goes and attempts to find her. It seems that her sister went to Aokigahara Forest, a forest northwest of Mount Fuji in Japan known as a popular place where people commit suicide. It is believed that this forest makes you want to kill yourself. In chapter three of The Art of Watching Films, Dennis Petrie, and Joseph M. Boggs write, “The importance of a suitable title is not overlooked by writers like Neil Simon: When looking for a fun title, you’re looking for something that’s going to grab them. In the titles of my plays that really mean something to me, I try to tell the audience what the play is about, what the character is about. I try to tell the story in the title.” The author is emphasizing the importance of the title in which I believe writers Nick Antosca, Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell did a clear job of in The Forest. The title summarizes what the movie is about without giving all away.
In chapter two of The Art of Watching Films, “In adventure stories and detective stories, the filmmaker focuses on plot on what happens. The aim of such films is generally to provide an escape from the boredom and drabness of everyday life, so the action is exciting and fast paced. Characters, ideas, and emotional effects are subordinate to events, and the final outcome is all-important.” What these authors are saying is that films are composed within this point of view. They do not want to bore the audience, they want to excite the audience. The director can start off by thinking with a theme, which can help set the tone or mood. In The Forest, the writer shows the theme of a relationship between two sisters.
This film also surrounds itself with the theme of the old legends about Japanese ghosts called, Yurei. This theme of Japanese ghosts is justified by a suspenseful mood throughout the movie. There were multiple scare scenes which did make one jump off their seat, this was caused by the music and the timing of the popup. At times when there was no dialogue, the music became the dialogue showing that music speaks. “In certain situations, a short dead track, the complete absence of sound, may be as effective as the most powerful sound effect. The ghostly, unnatural quality of film without sound forces us to look intently at the image. The natural rhythms of sound effects, dialogue, and music become as natural to the film as the rhythms of breathing; and when these rhythms stop, we immediately develop a feeling of almost physical tension and suspense, as though we are holding our breath and can’t wait to start breathing again.” The authors are saying silence speaks. The authors are saying that silence and beats have a strong power, significance and role in dialogue and sound. Sometimes when Sara will stare into the distance you can hear a piano playing in the background. It was as if the piano was telling Sara’s internal story. Most of the time it would be a feeling of being scared or sad.
There was one scene when Sara was walking down a long corridor and at the end of the corridor, there was an old lady. In this long shot, we see Sara walking slowly towards the woman, with suspenseful music playing. Then it seems Sara is close enough to the lady, and so the figure appears directly in front of her, Sara screams loudly, which makes the audience want to scream as well. It is things like this that one can applaud the director for knowing the timing of where they can scare the audience. The set design can also influence how you feel about the film.
The set seemed to be location filmed. The actors were not in a studio yet they were in a forest. The filmed seem to have low key lighting. In the book, the chapter about color says, “Colors Contribute to Three-Dimensionality. The director can capitalize on another characteristic of color to ensure that attention is attracted to the proper object: Some colors seem to advance toward the foreground, and others seem to recede into the background. Colors such as red, orange, yellow, and lavender are advancing colors. When given high intensity and dark value, they seem to advance, making objects appear larger and closer to the camera than they are. Interior decorators and others know that a chair covered in red will seem larger and closer to an observer than the same chair covered in receding colors such as beige, green, or pale blue.” In The Forest, Everything seemed so gloomy. Green, brown and blue were the atmospheric colors most of the time. A lot of the filming took place in the forest, which created a foggy atmosphere. This makes the audience feel the sad mood. This is ironic because as Sara on the search for her sister encountered a woman who told her, “Do you know why do not lead the path? Because if you get lost and you have sadness in your heart, they’ll use it against you. Yurei come find you and make you see things that make you want to die.” Sara was clearly sad throughout the whole film due to the disappearance of her sister, so it was already dangerous for her to go find her. This made the characters stakes high. Sara could lose her life, but this showed how committed she was to finding her sister and made it believable.
The casting in the movie seemed predictable. In most horror films we usually see the white thin female, playing the vulnerable protagonist role. Sara is dealing with internal conflict of being sad and the external conflict of not having her sister in sight. In The Forest, we also see a brave female going out to be the hero in saving her sister, which was interesting to watch. Natalie Dormer who played both Sara and Jesse performed credibly. She was believable when she was scared, sad or angry. She was believable when she spoke heroically. The reason for it being believable is the love she has for her sister- the high stakes she has if she doesn’t find her.
Sara and Jesse lost their parents at a very young age. Jesse has always had suicide tendencies because she saw their parent’s dead. Sara claims that she can feel if her sister is dead or alive. She obviously believes she is alive. Here we also see the theme of a strong connection between these two sisters. Since Jesse saw her parent’s dead, she knows the truth about how they died. Their grandmother told them they died because of a car crashing them through their garage door. We learn this as Sara is re-telling this story to a guy she just met named Aiden who is going to help her get into the Forest.
As Sara is re-telling the story we see the flashback. She is telling Aiden what her grandmother told her, but in reality on the screen we see that it was a murder-suicide committed her father. This scene was shown by Aiden and Sara sitting in a diner. As Sara is speaking, there is a medium shot of them sitting down and then it goes into flashback mode. In the flashback, we see Jesse walking down into the basement where her parents died. The screen continuously switches from them sitting at the diner to the basement scene where they show the parents lying dead on the floor. It makes their death seem very dramatic and a very important part of their lives. This shows why Sara is at high stake at losing possibly the only family member she is really close with. Sara and Jesse’s relationship is justified and shown through flashbacks.
This linear film uses flashbacks to allow the reader to understand these two characters relationship. There is one scene in the film where we see Jesse on her way to Japan and she is staring out the window. Then it is followed by a scene where Sara and Jesse are talking right before Jesse’s flight to Japan. They are in a bedroom. Jesse and Sara are packing, and by the way, Sara was talking to Jesse she seemed concerned. She wanted her sister to be safe. This scene justifies their relationship. The frame goes back to Sara, showing it was just a flashback. Yes, Sara and Jesse don’t only have themselves, but their grandmother as well, but we learn that they do not often see their grandmother in this same scene.
Throughout the film, we see the intensity and the worry in Sara. There are certain scenes where Sara is running for her life in the forest. The director’s choice of a handheld camera as Sara is running through the forest seemed to create the illusion of fear and worry. This makes the audience feel as if they are there themselves, providing anxiety for the audience. As an audience member, you are kept on the edge of your seat.
The ending can be described as not a happy ending. The directing and the writing made it possible as an audience member to be on Sara’s side in finding her sister. As an audience member you grow sympathy for wanting her sister back safe, and so we are rooting for Sara to find her sister and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, that is not what happens. Jess is tempted to suicide. She ended up hallucinating in the forest multiple times and so she began to not trust people and so she killed off Aiden at some point. By the end there is a scene showing Sara chasing her sister who is running out of the forest, she is screaming her sister’s name, but her sister is not turning around. As an audience member, you begin to question why? There has to be a symbolism here. It appears that Sara already died, and Jesse found her way out alone. It turned out Jess killed herself earlier in the film. She slit her wrist causing herself to bleed out. As Jess is exiting the forest she tells the police, that was waiting for her at the entrance, that the air is quiet she cannot hear her sister. This is their strong sisterly connection, especially as twins telling her Sara is dead. I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys getting scared. I’ve learned that in horror films timing is everything and in this film the director did a great job in scaring me.