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Movie Review: 'The Forest'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - If a plot fails in The Forest, can it possibly be sound?

Not very.

A supernatural horror thriller that doesn't trust its premise enough to create and sustain any internal logic, The Forest trots out a handful of shock scares, but is far more interested in making the audience jump than truly disturbing anybody.

Yes, it's mercifully brief but, yes, it's unmercifully shallow and formulaic as well.

(1½ stars out of 4)

Natalie Dormer (best known for television's Game of Thrones) stars as twins, an acting stunt also recently pulled off by Legend's Tom Hardy.

She plays American sisters Sarah and Jess Price, so close as children that they felt tuned in to each other's feelings and thoughts.

So each has always been able to sense what the other was going through.

Now they're grown. And when Jess, who teaches in Tokyo, mysteriously disappears, Sarah proceeds to Japan's beautiful Aokigahara forest – nicknamed the Suicide Forest – where thousands of people have gone over the years for the sole purpose of taking their own lives.

Sarah is joined after her 6,000-mile journey by an expatriate named Aidan, played by Taylor Kinney, and a forest guide (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) whom she hires to be there to keep an eye on her.

The advice she hears on more than one occasion is to "stay on the path."

But she is so concerned for her identical sibling that she ignores the warning, instead embracing the darkness even though she knows that malevolent spirits await her.

Sure enough, in the forest she confronts ghastly souls who are said to wander the woods and torment those who have come to contemplate their mortality.

Debuting director Jason Zada works from a muddled script by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai that offers ambiguity and confusion where clarity and closure are called for.

Just how much of what Sarah imagines is real is open to question, and her unreliable narration remains just that.

We would, that is, have to become much more emotionally engaged with Sarah and her companions to be legitimately invested in the outcome.

The early reels are edited to within an inch of the film's life, as if no one really trusted the footage on display. Things do eventually slow down, but not enough to redeem what turns out to be a completely botched ending, one in which even the bare-bones narrative is vague, let alone any rooting-interest emotion.

So we'll wander through 1-1/2 stars out of 4. There's so much wrong with this underachieving haunted-woods thriller, we can't see The Forest for the trees.

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