Monday, 29 February 2016

The Forest

Bark Toccata

The Forest
2016 USA
Directed by Jason Zada 
UK cinema release print.

Okay, I have to confess that, while I haven’t actually listened to my copy of Bear McCreary’s score to this movie yet (it’s still stuck in shrink wrap while it was waiting for me to hear it in its context within the movie before I get around to cracking it open and spinning it), the composer’s involvement in this movie is the primary reason for me going to see it in the first place. Sure, it’s true I like horror movies and the trailer was good enough that I might have gone and seen this one anyway but, frankly, it leapt into ‘must see/must hear’ status when I found out about McCreary’s involvement. He’s a composer I’ve really liked since first hearing his work on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica TV show but, alas, he rarely scores anything else that I’m likely to get the opportunity (and possibly inclination) to see. So I basically know him solely from all of his Battlestar Galactica releases, plus his work on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The film is, in some ways, a fairly standard horror yarn, not unlike something you might find dropped into an old 1950's EC comic, but the basic premise was enough to keep me interested and, although it's not, by any means, an innovative or really original film... it’s got enough going for it in terms of execution of the concept that it ends up being quite an effectively chilling little movie. A haunting piece where the darkness of the human spirit becomes intertwined with the supernatural and, thus, it’s what I would call a ‘proper’ horror movie.

The film stars Natalie Dormer in a dual role as Sara and Jess. Nothing fancy here in terms of technical ways of showing this... it’s a low budget film and it sticks to standard reverse shots in conversations to show us the twins interacting but, in all honesty, that’s all that’s needed here, It serves the story when required and it really doesn’t need to head into Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers territory for this one. Jess, who teaches English in Japan (a job my cousin once did, as it happens), has gone to the famous ‘Suicide Forest’... a real place in Japan where people go to die and which is associated very much with evil spirits and demonic presences. So much so, in fact, that when actress Natalie Dormer went to the real forest herself as research for the film, her guide wouldn’t step off the path even a couple of feet, mirroring the concerns of her guide in the film, Michi, played by Yukiyoshi Ozawa and also her new journalist acquaintance Aiden, played by Taylor Kinney. Being as she is one of twins, Sara shares a bond with her sister and knows she must still alive and so the three go into The Forest to find her.

And then, of course, the obvious happens and Sara is fighting for her life in there from all kinds of supernatural attacks as she tries to find Jess and/or find her way out of The Forest alive. Now, yes, it is completely predictable in terms of the plotting and, very much so, in the final outcome of the movie. You’re given all the ingredients to figure out very early on in the piece just how it’s going to end up. However, all that being said, The Forest is an extremely technically competent horror movie and, sometimes, you don’t need to be dazzling on the conceptual genetic make up of your story, especially in this genre. Sometimes it's just enough to do it with a little style. What we have here is a horror movie which takes all those clichéd ingredients you would expect to come up in a film of this nature and... do them just right. Nothing about this movie is overcooked on the scares and jump shocks and, quite honestly, it was a pleasure to be in the hands of such a competent film-maker as Jason Zada turns out to be in this, his debut feature (after having directed a few shorts).

The acting is not exactly shabby either. I hadn’t heard of any one of the people who are in this movie, to be honest, but they all did a terrific job and the two leads provide excellent portrayals of people who you really wouldn’t mind hanging out with to pass the time of day. Of course, this makes it all the more scary when the inevitable paranoia starts to set in and The Forest starts toying with it’s prey, as you know it’s going to.

There aren’t any real stand out set pieces apart from a nice homage to the old ViewMaster phenomenon of the late 1930s through to the present day... I didn’t realise they were still making them, to be honest but, yeah, I still have mine. There’s a scene in this movie where Sara finds a ViewMaster in a cavern she’s fallen into and... well, yeah, like a lot of the movie the scene is predictable but, also like the majority of the movie, it’s done well and shows impeccable timing. It’s a nice moment in that it links the present shenanigans to the back story of the death of the twins' parents and, later on, this scenario is revisited again in a sequence where... oh no. That’s right. I said to myself I wouldn’t post any spoilers for this one on here so... I can’t tell you. Although you’ll almost certainly get there yourself.

The other big thing this movie has going for it is the impeccable score by Bear McCreary which was so significant in me bothering to go out to the cinema to see this thing for. It’s a great horror score, really not a million miles away from his work on Battlestar Galactica, in that the tone and dominance of the percussion and unusual orchestration is quite similar. It also doesn’t do what a lot of even the best composers for horror films sometimes do with their scores either... it doesn’t pre-empt or give away any of the jump scares. In fact, it pretty much lures you in and keeps the flow going until the sting comes... and it’s good that McCreary knows not to do this and that the director hasn’t made him deviate into a less subtle, more full-on, over cranked score to accompany what is, after all, a scary movie intended to make you jump. McCreary’s music is a real support to this movie and I absolutely can’t wait to get the CD out of its shrink wrap.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about this one. A nicely put together movie that really doesn’t outstay its welcome for it hour and a half running time and which doesn’t have time to get dull. The sinister ghosts in the movie are quite intimidating, in their way, too and so if you’re a fan of the genre, you really might want to take some time and wander along to the cinema to check this one out. I really thought it was a shiny gem of a movie, despite being easy to predict, and I think a lot of the audience for this kind of picture will get a kick out of it. Certainly, if you’re a horror fan, you’d be barking mad not to check out The Forest.

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