The Forest (2016)

Released: January 8, 2016. Directed by: Jason Zada. Starring: Natalie Dormer (times deux), Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa. Runtime: 1 hr 33 min.

The first wide release of 2016 came in horror film The Forest, also the first top billing role for Natalie Dormer (TV’s Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I).

The Brit is tasked with playing the roles of identical twin sisters. Sara stays home in America, while the other, edgier Dormer (Jess) goes to teach in Japan. When word travels to Sara that Jess went venturing into Japan’s infamous Suicide Forest, she travels to Japan to look for her.

The forest at hand is a real place – Aokigahara is its official name – which lies at the base of Mount Fuji. It’s been depicted a couple of times in film, like in SyFy Channel horror flick Grave Halloween and Gus Van Sant drama The Sea of Trees.

Dormer carries the film mildly well, but her range doesn’t make it feel like she’s convincingly creating two different, twin characters. There’s nothing that really seems to separate them – but that could also just be because of poor character development.

When Dormer’s Sara gets to Japan, she meets Aiden — portrayed by Taylor Kinney – a travel journalist who is going into the Suicide Forest for research. When he realizes he can make a good human interest story out of Sara searching for her sister, he invites her along. Guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Owaza) brings them into the forest, as he’s usually the one to go in during daylight to retrieve any deceased people.

The suicide forest might be the only interesting aspect about the film. The story itself is just wandering around the woods, deliriously searching for a point. When it seems like the story is straightening itself out and actually getting towards a satisfying climax, it turns in a new direction and just loses all sense it might have found.

Dormer’s Sara really isn’t all that interesting, either. Her dedication for her sister is nice but also blind and stupid in ways, insistent on staying in the woods overnight in case Jess returns to her tent. I mean, if she wanted to see her sister again, all she has to do is slap on some eyeliner and look at herself in the mirror. And if Jess would have stayed on the path, all might have been peachy.

The thought of the forest and its frightening intent should instil dread, but it doesn’t. There’s more a sense of psychological torment here and it’s an honest snooze. The premise really should work, but it just doesn’t. This might lie in its complete reliance on jump scares. It’s like the film broke a leg at the beginning and needed that as its crutch.

It really should have used its supernatural spin in a more convincing way. In folklore, no spirit truly dies in the forest and their spirits live on in the forest – and that’s why it’s creepy – but this concept wasn’t terrifying enough in the story.

The Forest2

Natalie Dormer in The Forest (Source).

And supernatural horror is the Japanese horror specialty – so maybe this would be better in their hands. Maybe a remake will be in our good fortunes.

This American take is just drowned by a dreadful screenplay. It brings an intriguing story to a mainstream audience, but its execution fails it. It’s very well-filmed because of the lush landscapes, but really, even a snuff film is going to look beautiful if it’s shot in a forest like this.

It’s convincing that we’re watching them navigate through the Suicide Forest — though we’re just watching them go through a forest near Tara Mountain in Western Serbia.

It’s still very pretty, even when they had to film some of it in a former warehouse. That’s the magic of cinema, folks.

Score: 40/100

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3 Days to Kill (2014)

3 days to killReleased: February 21, 2014. Directed by: McG. Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard. Runtime: 113 min.

French writer and producer (sometimes director) Luc Besson is back at it again writing the story and co-writing the screenplay (with Adi Hasak) for “3 Days to Kill.” Music video director turned filmmaker McG takes over directing duties; tackling a bunch of genres in once that sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. It’s part-actioner, part-drama, and part-comedy – and wow, that’s just too many genres at once for some directors. McG produces some great TV shows (“Supernatural,” “Nikita”) but the films he’s directed are usually only okay for me (I’ve only seen three of his – the two “Charlie’s Angels” flicks and “This Means War”); and his newest movie is fun and good for what it is: a generic actioner.

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is a dying Secret Service agent who’s given three to six months to live because of a disease that starts out with a bad cough. When he learns of his fate, he decides to reconnect his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). When he goes to Paris to visit them, he has to promise his wife that he’s done working for the Secret Service. He promises, but just his luck – a CIA operative named Vivi (Amber Heard) tasks him with taking down a notorious criminal called the Wolf (sadly, not the Wolf of Wall Street). He’s only given three days to take down the criminal for some reason that doesn’t get explained that well. My suspicion is that they just needed a title. If you blink at the beginning when they explain the criminal’s crimes, you’ll forget why he’s being hunted. If Ethan is able to kill Wolf within three days, he’s given the chance to receive an experimental drug that could save his life. On top of that, he’s trying to reconnect with his daughter. Since he didn’t call before going to visit them, the wife is going away for business. He has to act as a babysitter for the time being.

Film Review 3 Days To KillAs you can tell, it’s a lot for McG to juggle. With this film, I think he expresses that he is perfectly competent to direct actioners, some big laughs and even some decent drama – but put it all in a blender and shove it into one film, it ends up being a decently fun, but tonally uneven actioner. There’s enough action to entertain fans of Besson’s work, and it’s at least better than “Taken 2.” It’s going to entertain action fans outside of his fanbase, too; and we should all just be thankful that he resists the urge to put Zoey into mortal danger and get kidnapped. The action is a bit generic, but I’ll admit, I say that about a lot of action movies! It’s just difficult for an action film to be not generic these days, because components of this plot feels like it’s been done in “Crank.” The editing is dizzying and too quick during some of the action scenes, but otherwise decent in the dramatic sequences. When Ethan is dizzy because of his disease, the cinematography is shaky and has that drug-induced haze about it (if you know what I mean) – so that’s fine because that’s the point. These temporary dazes happen at climactic times all too convenient for the villains.

The reason why this is tonally uneven is because it goes from one scene where he is in his bathroom using the PG-13 version of torture (ripping tape from a man’s armpit, ouch!) on a suspect that could lead him to the Wolf, and he’s called to visit his daughter’s school because she got in a fight.There are a lot of scenes like that, where you can tell an action scene is on the way by the score; but it gets interrupted by a call from the daughter. Is the film trying to express that children are annoying little shits, and that parenting is difficult? It seems like it. Regardless of the tonal shifts, I think this is a fun movie with some good laughs. Costner and Steinfeld share a few good scenes that show the struggles of reconnecting, and when there’s sweetness – it’s much more pleasant than the daughter being sour towards her father. The two stars share a great chemistry, and they elevate their respective characters to a finer level. Costner’s chemistry with Connie Nielson is just fine; there’s a much bigger focus on the father-daughter relationship. The film expresses how much of an impact being in the Secret Service can have on one’s relationships; because one has to put their needs in front of their own by keeping them out of danger. More on Costner: It’s nice that he’s staying busy in action movies, already being in two in 2014 thus far. This one as the secret agent doing the killings; the first one, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” as the recruiter/mentor – giving people the intelligence to do their jobs well.

3 DaysAmber Heard takes on that role here, always sporting a different hairstyle in each scene. Either she was going through from serious identity issues herself while filming, or she’s just trying to stay way undercover. She gives off a dark and mysterious vibe, where many won’t be able to tell if she’s a protagonist or an antagonist throughout. She’s decent, but she’s probably present for the sex appeal. She gives Ethan his orders, but the fact why he must kill this guy within three days is so bloody forgettable, that it just squanders some have high-stakes intensity it might have had.

Heard’s character shows up at random times to check in, but there’s a lot of other random crap going on in this flick. Ethan has an obsession with this purple bike he intended to give to Zoey as a present, where McG feels the need to present a montage of Ethan riding it home. One other main, and random sub-plot concerns a family of squatters in Ethan’s apartment. They’ve made themselves comfortable, and it seems that they’ve been occupying his apartment for a few months, probably more. Ethan’s relationship with the squatters might be to portray his humanity – but his love for his wife and daughter does that enough; so it’s rather redundant. I learn that squatting is an issue in Paris, so it is an accurate portrayal – but with the already crowded plot, Luc Besson’s socio-economical comment (making more people aware of it) in the film is another thing that feels out of place.

Score58/100