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'The Forest' Blu-ray Review: Come for the atmosphere, not for the scares

April 12, 2016Ben MK

At the base of Japan's Mount Fuji there lies a 14-square-mile piece of land so densely populated with trees that it's known as "Jukai," or "Sea of Trees." Its official name is the Aokigahara Forest; however, it also goes by another, more sinister moniker: the Suicide Forest. With 50-100 suicides estimated to take place there each year, it's no wonder many people consider the Aokigahara Forest to be haunted — which, of course, makes it the perfect setting for a horror movie.

Enter The Forest, a film that aims to capitalize on the creepiness of this real-life locale. Starring Game of Thrones' Natalie Dormer as an American who travels to Japan in search of her missing identical twin, it's the story of a woman who ends up venturing deep into the heart of the Aokigahara in search of answers. Instead, all she finds are restless spirits and more questions. Now she too must fight to find her way out of the place that thousands of people have made their final destination. But with the forest's supernatural inhabitants — the Yurei — working against her, does she stand a chance?

Directed by first-time feature director Jason Zada and written by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai, The Forest is by no means unique, taking your standard haunted house and horror movie tropes and simply transposing them to a setting that's as outdoorsy as it is claustrophobic. That being said, the film isn't without its redeeming qualities. Featuring a predominantly Japanese cast and filmed on-location in Japan and in Serbia's Tara National Park, The Forest at least looks authentic. And with its slow-burning narrative, it certainly isn't lacking for atmospheric tension.

Otherwise, it's hard not to expect more from The Forest, as the filmmakers behind it are clearly following the same template set forth by J-horror remakes like The Ring and The Grudge. Yet they do so without an understanding of what made those films so frightening, choosing to dole out cheap scares rather than to take the time to craft something genuinely haunting. In the end, that makes The Forest something fans of those older — more superior — films will appreciate the most. Just know that if you're expecting to be scared out of your seat, you're barking up the wrong tree.

There's nothing to fear about The Forest's technical presentation, as this Blu-ray encode is top-notch in every regard. Image quality is quite pleasing, with a thin veil of film grain and ample fine detail in faces, clothing and environments; and hues are nicely saturated, from the neon lights of Tokyo at night to the many shades of green found throughout the forest. Likewise, darker scenes benefit from the transfer's deep black levels and excellent contrast; while dialogue and music benefit from the movie's DTS-HD 5.1 sound mix, which also conjures up a variety of ghastly shrieks and ghostly whispers, not to mention the sounds of birds and crickets, as well as the crunching of leaves and branches underfoot.

Universal's one-disc Blu-ray release includes an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy and the following extras:

  • Exploring the Forest (8:05) - A featurette that touches briefly on the story, the real-life Aokigahara Forest, the characters, the makeup and practical effects, and the set design.
  • Galleries - 5 "Behind-the-Scenes Photos," 8 "Set Illustrations," 14 pieces of "Visual Effects/Make-Up Concept Art," 4 "Model Cave Photos" and 227 panels of "Storyboard" art ("Visitors Center," "80s Flashback," "Cabin Sequence" and "Revised Ending").
  • Feature Commentary with Director Jason Zada - Zada discusses, among other things, the score, the visual flow of the film, the cinematography and the lighting, the casting, the production design and the story, as well as shooting in Serbia, Japan and the UK.

The Forest is available from Universal Studios Home Entertainment as of April 12th, 2016. The Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track and is presented with English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles. The total runtime is 1 Hr. 33 mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on January 8th, 2016.

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