So today I am pairing up with the lovely Deb Atwood again to do another joint review of a film. We had so much fun last time that we wanted to have another go. The Forest is another horror film, about, you guessed it, a haunted forest.
From IMDB: A woman, Sara, goes into Japan's Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, Jess, and confronts supernatural terror.
The review contains what could be considered spoilers, so be warned if you read on.
The Forest - A Joint Review
by Natasha Duncan-Drake & Deb Atwood
Q1 Deb: As a non-twin, I have to ask. How much of the twin mythology that was made much of in the film—eerily feeling each other's pain, sensing each other's thoughts—is true to your experience, and how much is popularized fiction?
Tasha: Soph and I call it the twin thing and it does happen. It used to happen a lot more when we were younger, but it does still happen now. When we were small my mother says we used to completely swap personalities sometimes.
As for the pain thing, I have trouble walking and if I walk too long it can really hurt. Sometimes when we go shopping together Soph gets the pain and I get less (if that makes any sense) - it's most weird.
We also do things like, we'll both be writing a story and come up with the exact same idea without ever having discussed it.
So I'd say, yes, it really does exist. :) I think the way the film portrayed it was well done, although I do have to say, Soph is not a noise in my head ;).
Deb: So it sounds like you should always take Soph shopping with you, right? I like the idea of someone assuming some of my pain. Have you read the book Identical Strangers by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein? They were twins separated at birth and reunited in their thirties. They discovered they had made some of the same life choices, and they interviewed other separated twin sets who shared eerie similarities. It definitely seems there is a twin magnetism. I'm glad you're able to put your stamp of approval on the twin portrayal in The Forest. I'm a little jealous that I, as a non-twin, don't have that kind of bestie!
Tasha: No I haven't read that book, sounds like a very interesting one. I have seen some documentaries on twins that were interesting, unfortunately I have no idea what they are called :).
Q2 Tasha: Have you ever had anything along the lines of a psychic experience involving another living person, relative or otherwise? Do you believe they can happen. Did the film portray it in a believable way for you?
Deb: The only sort of psychic connection I've felt is when I'm thinking of someone, a friend, and then receive a message from that person. I'm not sure my feeling is psychic as much as it was just naturally time for us to connect. I do believe psychic messages are possible, and I sure love to experience this phenomena in novels and movies. The film's portrayal of this made sense to me other than the idea of knowing whether someone is alive, which seemed too convenient for the plot.
Tasha: To me the part about knowing the other is alive was very important and I think twins probably would know if the other had died. I just wasn't quite there for the way they described it :).
Q3 Deb: The forest is beautiful and haunting. Would you want to visit Aokigahara Forest? If so, would you rub salt on your back as you leave to prevent the Yurei from following you home? I guess that's a roundabout way of asking if you believe in ghosts?
Tasha: Yes I would like to visit the forest, although, these days I doubt I could walk far into it. :) I do believe in ghosts and have had a few experiences over the years. Never actually seen one, but felt and heard one on several occasions. I've lived in two haunted houses in my life and my husband's family have a tendency to see ghosts all over the place. I have no doubt things beyond what we understand do exist, however, I have yet to experience anything which would make me think there are Yurei - angry ghosts.
I actually didn't really gel with the ghost portrayals in the film though. They didn't speak to me and they didn't scare me. I love Asian horror, scares the willies out of me, but this felt like the Westerners trying to do J-horror and missing. It's not a terrible film, I wasn't bored by it, but I wouldn't rush to watch it again.
Deb: I, too, would like to visit the forest although I think I would feel so sad. I had never heard of this forest, but it turns out all those things--the tents and the direction ropes so people who change their minds can find their way out--are real.
Tasha: I had heard of it before, but didn't know all the details. I think it showed up in another horror movie I watched, or was mentioned at least.
Q4 Tasha: So do you believe ghosts exist? What about the angry ghosts of the film trying to trick living people into killing themselves - or are they just fodder for campfire tales? Did the ghosts in the film give you a good scare?
Deb: I haven't made up my mind about whether I believe in ghosts. Sometimes I think of them more as metaphors for yearning and loss and that makes me love them even more. The angry ghost is not my favorite type of apparition (and, like you, I'm skeptical of an entity capable of doing real harm). I much prefer the wandering, forlorn ghost looking for help. I have to say, though, the scariest ghost movie I ever saw featured angry ghosts and was titled Poltergeist. Interesting that you weren't scared in The Forest. I was terrified. You must be made of sterner stuff than I!
Tasha: I'm not sure why I wasn't scared. Maybe I was just expecting more and I didn't get it, who knows :).
Q5 Deb: What do you think of Sara's decision to spend the night in the forest rather than return in the morning? Other than the fact there'd be no movie otherwise, of course!
Tasha: The logical me sitting here thinks staying in a haunted forest for the night is a really bad plan! The twin part of me, however, says that if that was my sister's tent and I was worried about her, I would have to stay too. Given that Sarah does not believe in the stories about the forest it also makes perfect sense; staying is the only sensible option for her. Jess could have come back at any time.
It's the classic, 'I'll just go down to the basement to check the fuses' moment when we, the audience know it's a really stupid idea because of supernatural beasties, but the logical person in the horror film doesn't believe in anything silly like that :).
Personally though, if that was me, I'd be sitting there the entire night with the torch on, not even remotely attempting to sleep. Sleeping in a haunted forest is asking for trouble!
Q6 Tasha: I was a bit confused about how Sarah explained her parents' deaths while we were shown glimpses of what really happened that contradicted her story. Did you think she was in denial or that she really hadn't seen it and it was the forest that showed her the truth in the end? Do you think it matters to the plot?
Deb: I actually kind of think both if that makes sense. I think Sarah is in denial about her parents' deaths, but I also think the forest shows her the whole truth. I feel the burden Jess took on as the holder of that memory was part of what drove Sarah to stay rather than return in the morning. I imagine you could also view this film as a dark psychological study about a troubled self divided in two (ego/id, maybe?) rather than as a ghost story.
Tasha: You could, but I prefer my horror to be supernatural :D
Q7 Deb: What impressions do you have about the influence of culture on the actions and characters in this movie? How would this movie be different if it were filmed at Beachy Head, England, for instance? I was thinking of this question because I live near another suicide hot-spot, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Tasha: I thought the way they portrayed Sarah as the outsider in the strange world of Japan when she didn't speak the language or understand the customs, was very striking in the beginning of the film. Somehow I thought it lost that culture shock once they got into the forest though. I think they may have missed a trick there - possibly because they had to have the Western man in there too. He was too useful and comforting - for a while at least. If they had made more of the differences in Japanese and Western folklore I think the film may have had more impact.
Yes the effects were well done, but I didn't really find them frightening. There wasn't enough mythos about the story for me. Japanese folklore has such a rich history that I am sure they could have given it more of an edge.
As for how it would be different in an alternative cultural setting, I think you'd be on to more of a winner with the Golden Gate than I would with Beachy Head :). Lots more dark places to be creepy. Although if we brought in a sea mist it might work.
I just went and looked up Beachy Head and the first article I came across (https://sjhstrangetales.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/from-strangeblog-the-macabre-beauty-of-beachy-head/) said the reputation for suicides is only surpassed by the Golden Gate and Aokigahara Forest :). Apparently there is supposed to be a ghostly black monk who beckons people over the cliff to their death. So I think you could set a film there and have a similar scenario of someone being enticed to their death, although the key to The Forest is the huge and confusing nature of the place, so it would need a different angle for that part.
I think the idea that suicides may linger is a universal concept simply because ghosts are often associated with unhappy spirits and the poor people who take their own lives have to have been unhappy in some way too. However, the idea of the angry ghost, where because of the way they die they completely change into something evil, is much more prevalent in Asian mythology. So I suspect a Western ghost would have to have much more of a back story to be evil.
Deb: That's a really good point--the huge and confusing nature of the Aokigahara Forest as key to the movie. Again, the psychological element comes in. Related to culture, I was also thinking about cultural influences on how suicide is viewed. Japan has a history of honorable suicide not matched in the West. One article I read suggested this difference is in part because of Christianity, which classifies suicide as a sin. Only a small percentage of the Japanese identify as Christian.
On the Golden Gate Bridge, a group calling themselves the Bridgewatch Angels actively walks the bridge to prevent suicide. In the movie, it seemed the volunteers were more concerned with providing support to those who were questioning than directly intervening. For me, that felt like a key cultural difference and part of what made that particular setting integral to the film.
Tasha: You're right about the honourable suicide angle, I hadn't even thought of that. I think that just underlines quite how much I felt a dislocation in the culture once they entered the forest. In a Western film you would have much more condemnation of the spirits I suppose.
Q8 Tasha: Does the Golden Gate have any ghostly legends associated with it because of its reputation?
Deb: I don't know of any ghost movies that have been made of the Golden Gate Bridge. And apparently no jumpers have come back to haunt the bridge (although some people claim to hear screams when the bridge is fogged in, but that could just as easily be sea gulls screeching). The only ghost tale associated with the bridge features a boat, the SS Tennessee, which was swept onto the rocks of the Golden Gate Strait in 1853. Witnesses have occasionally seen the ship pass by. It leaves a wake but does not register on radar. I was intrigued by your story of the devious monk at Beachy Head. I'll have to watch out for him if I ever visit there!
Tasha: Only a ghostly ship? You'd think there would be tales of ghostly jumpers, but maybe the bridge leaves the ghosts to the water.
Q9 Tasha: Over all I found the film somewhat lacking in detail in places. I would have preferred some more meat to the story, like an explanation for why Jess had decided to go in the forest and who was the school girl. What did you think?
Deb: I guess I assumed Jess had been troubled all her life because of what happened to her parents, but yes, some idea of what triggered her visit to the forest would strengthen the story. The presence of the schoolgirl ghost did not surprise me (though she scared me to death). This article from Newsweek discusses reasons for high suicide rates in Japan among schoolchildren: http://www.newsweek.com/why-do-so-many-japanese-schoolchildren-kill-themselves-391648
Something the movie might have explored is a relationship between the schoolgirl and Jess with Jess as her teacher. That could provide more meat to the story and possibly help with Jess's motivation.
Overall, I liked the movie quite a bit even though it made me sad and angry. I can see that I was more scared than you were. I'm the one you don't want to sit next to in a theater. I'm the one who yelps.
Tasha: I hide behind cushions or, in the cinema, my coat - LOL. Glad the movie does have the power to frighten, even if it didn't grab me.
About the Author
Deb Atwood holds an MFA and lives in California with her husband and rescue dog Nala. Her time-slip novel, Moonlight Dancer, was selected as a front page Featured Review by Book Ideas. Deb's interests include ghost fiction and films, Korean culture, dogs, quilting, and, of course, reading. She loves to wander around old cemeteries and peek in mausoleums. Deb blames this odd fascination on the television program Dark Shadows, which she watched as a child.
Book InfoPen In Her Hand know, Atwood is passionate about ghost fiction. Since 2011, Atwood has read, re-read, and written about ghost literature. 31 Ghost Novels to Read Before You Die presents a selection of the best of these posts.
Among the books discussed are old favorites (The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson) as well as some indie gems few people will know about (The 20’s Girl, the Ghost, and All That Jazz by June Kearns). There are ghost novels for every reader, in genres ranging from historical to literary to romance.