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Horror movie ‘The Forest’ squanders its haunting premise

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The Forest

Two stars

The Forest Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa. Directed by Jason Zada. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

The Aokigahara forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan is a notorious spot for suicides, and it’s been having a bit of a pop-culture moment, thanks to movies like Gus Van Sant’s drama The Sea of Trees, which premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Forest is the third American horror movie in the last several years to take place in Aokigahara, and while it’s also the most high-profile, it doesn’t make any worthwhile use of its unique setting.

Once concerned American Sara Price (Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer, with a questionable accent) enters Aokigahara in search of her missing twin sister Jess (also Dormer), the movie turns into a generic haunted-forest story, with a series of banal jump scares and pale apparitions. First-time feature director Jason Zada (an advertising veteran responsible for the cloying Elf Yourself online campaign) and the three screenwriters stereotype the Japanese as creepy and superstitious, although the American journalist (Chicago Fire’s Taylor Kinney) who helps Sara isn’t any more fully developed as a character. There are vague hints at a twist that never materializes, and the movie ends with the most overused final shot in horror. It takes a premise full of thematic resonance about depression and suicide and uses it to deliver empty schlock.

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