Like Grave Halloween, this spins a typical spook story out of the (real) phenomenon of Aokigahara Forest, a stretch of Japanese woodland near Mount Fuji which has become a favoured spot for suicides. Grave Halloween was mostly shot in Canada, but this finds its locations in Serbia – perhaps because the Japanese are a bit iffy about a national tragedy being spun off into an entirely conventional horror movie. Gus Van Sant’s artier The Sea of Trees was mostly shot in Massachusetts, which means that the real Aokigahara hasn’t yet been shown in the movies.
Sara (Natalie Dormer) has a psychic insight that her twin sister Jess (also Dormer) is in trouble in Japan, and learns that the girl has headed off into the forest and probably intends to kill herself. Used to being the sensible one and baling the flakier Jess – who has goth-ish hair tints – out of trouble, Sara heads to Japan and finds herself deep in the woods with Aiden (Taylor Kinney), a supposed travel writer she starts to suspect of knowing more about Jess than he says, and Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), an off-the-books guide-cum-counsellor who specialises in talking people out of suicide. Sara is warned that the forest will get in her head and make her see things, and it soon becomes all-too-apparent that actually she’s the most vulnerable of the sisters – with a traumatic childhood flashback to show where she went off the rails. There’s a lot of ambiguity about the immediate backstory that never does get sorted out since much of what Sara discovers or suspects is down to her going crzay while being persecuted by yurei (here, demons). The apparitions are from the stock of J-horror cliches – including mad old blind women, creepy schoolgirls, bag-headed hanging victims, rubber-faced bad Dad and CGI-tarted-up stumbling spectres. Dormer, impressive in a wide range of roles (including Moriarty on Elementary), gets a rare lead but is stuck with a vaguely-written descent into screaming terror and wrist-sawing lunacy.
It lucked out to score a theatrical release, but is far less imaginative and effective a use of the lore of the forest than Grave Halloween – which at least had the grace to make its heroine Japanese-American. Scripted by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai; directed by Jason Zada.
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