Natalie Dormer’s push to become a genuine Hollywood leading actress has been a long time coming. She’s been a mainstay on the most popular show on television, Game Of Thrones, since 2012, while she’s also been part of The Hunger Games posse for the last two installments of the franchise.
Of course, finding the perfect film to launch Natalie Dormer as mainstream commodity was always going to be hard. Leading roles in blockbusters are hard to come by – even though she has repeatedly been linked to Captain Marvel – while there’s no point in appearing in a well-made indie effort that, while probably showcasing her talents, could easily go under the radar. A genre effort was her best bet, especially a horror film. That’s why The Forest perfectly suits her needs and desires at this juncture in her career, and it gives her the right platform to boost her cinematic profile.
And in The Forest she does just that, appearing and owning pretty much every scene in the film in a strong and compelling fashion that proves she has a screen presence worthy of bigger films. Unfortunately it’s just the film itself that lets her down. That’s not to say that The Forest doesn’t have redeeming qualities. Its fish-out-of-water plot, which sees Natalie Dormer’s Sara Price traveling from the USA to Japan to try and find her twin sister, Jess, who was last seen walking into a forest renowned for suicides, is quickly and effectively set-up. Once in Tokyo, Sara prepares to go into the famously haunted forest that forces people to do unspeakably barbaric things to themselves and whoever they are with. She finds Taylor Kinney’s Aiden, a journalist looking to explore the forest who wants to use Sara’s plight for his story, and Yukiyoshi Ozawa’s Michi, a guide, who join her in her search for Jess.
First-time director Jason Zada shoots Aokigahara Forest in a gorgeously naturalistic fashion, while I have to admit that I found myself genuinely, but only slightly, compelled and impressed just by the fact that the film was actually filmed in Japan, providing it with a nice, unique texture and authenticity.
Unfortunately, after establishing the plot, mythology and tensions, Zada, who made his name as a music video director and digital marketer, is unable to give his horror scenes an edge or visceral punch. It’s all a little too familiar, and the film's PG-13 rating means that it never threatens to be anywhere close to genuinely terrifying. Sure, there are scares, with Zada getting in close and personal to the cast before then unleashing a quick jolt of horror, while the abyss of the forest acts as a spooky enough backdrop from which the supernatural can emerge. But you know the scares are coming. It ultimately becomes tiresome, and the teased potential is never fully realized.
The Forest is also let down by a chaotic conclusion, which takes a predictable turn but does so in a hurried fashion that leaves far more questions than satisfying answers. It also doesn’t help that The Forest's lack of energy or pace stagnates any spookiness that the film’s intriguing premise has built up.
You’ll be substantially hooked by Dormer's driven performance and Jess' plight to conclude that The Forest isn’t completely horrible, but it doesn’t do nearly enough to satisfy. Natalie Dormer deserves better. Let’s just hope that, even though its decidedly unremarkable, The Forest still gives her the career boost that soon provides her with the opportunity to do just that.