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Creepy 'The Forest' wastes its potential on easy scares
Natalie Dormer stars as Sara Price in Jason Zadas The Forest. - photo by Josh Terry
"THE FOREST" 2 stars Natalie Dormer, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Taylor Kinney, Jason Zada; PG-13 (disturbing thematic content and images); in general release

For a movie that spends so much time talking about psychology, The Forest seems awfully willing to settle for easy scares. Thats too bad, because director Jason Zadas horror story has a lot of things going for it.

The Forest is three parts horror and two parts mystery. Its built around a woman named Sara (Natalie Dormer) who goes in search of her troubled twin sister after she disappears into a haunted forest. The film makes the most of some great settings and a plot that lends itself easily to misdirection, but it falls short when it stumbles on traditional horror conventions.

Sara arrives in Japan soon after she learns of her sister Jesss disappearance. Jess had been teaching English classes in Tokyo in an effort to rehabilitate her troubled life, but she vanished during a school trip to the Aokigahara Forest. Set at the base of Mount Fuji, the infamous Aokigahara is a popular destination for suicide attempts, and the locals say the forest is haunted by angry spirits.

Everyone insists that Jess is already dead, but Sara claims a special twins-only connection is telling her the opposite. With the help of a local guide named Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) and an American travel writer named Aiden (Taylor Kinney), she sets into the park determined to rescue her sister.

Aokigahara is a creepy place on its own, and its common to stumble onto the bodies of recent suicides in your travels. But locals also warn that the angry spirits in the forest will use hallucinations to drive anyone with a hint of sadness in their heart to suicidal impulses. If you see anything strange, Michi tells Sara, remember that it is only in your mind.

That last twist is a wonderful set-up that leaves the audience questioning the validity of anything they see in the film from that point on. Zada also gives us some clever moments, such as when Sara is abandoned in a makeshift morgue at a ranger station, and later when a skillful flashback reveals a dark episode from her past while she fabricates a very different story to Aiden.

Dormer does a solid job as Sara, and its fun to see her with more to do than teach Jennifer Lawrence the ins and outs of propaganda filmmaking. Technically Dormer is playing two parts here, but her screen time as Jess is minimal. A revised version of the film that included more interaction between the two sisters might have offered a more compelling product.

Still, between the second-guessing and the beautiful, oppressive power of the forest setting, The Forest should keep audiences nervous and attentive for most of its run. Even the early scenes in Tokyo support the films grim tone. But once the myriad threads and pieces begin to fall into their places, The Forest delivers a finish that makes sense, but fails to satisfy.

All too often, Zada resorts to sending scary faces zooming at the camera rather than mining the true psychological horror he flirts with. The Forest will send several chills up your spine, but it wont make you lose any sleep when the night comes.

"The Forest" is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and images; running time: 95 minutes