Jason Zada’s formulaic horror might be dismissed as exploitative and tasteless for conjuring supernatural scares in Aokigahara Forest, a notorious real-life hotspot for Japanese suicides at the northwest base of Mount Fuji.
But that would credit The Forest with more intelligence, guile and intent than are on display in a ham-fisted and plodding script penned by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell and Ben Ketai.
Their hodgepodge of genre cliches and malnourished, two-dimensional characters fails to make us shift in our seats let alone jump out of them with genuine fright.
Zada’s direction is equally poor, lazily going through the motions, while lead performances from Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney are as wooden as the titular swaying timbers.
Their protagonists are unsympathetic, verging on dislikeable, so when misfortune befalls these supposedly good people, we feel a delicious pang of Schadenfreude rather than mounting fear or concern.
“People see bad things, do bad things,” observes a superstitious forest tour guide, who has the unenviable task of scouring the 14 square miles for lifeless bodies.
We secretly hope he’s right because putting the flimsy, selfish characters out of their misery spares us another tiresome minute in their disagreeable company.
Police in Japan telephone Sara Price (Dormer) in America to inform her that identical twin Jess (Dormer again with different hair colouring) is lost, presumed deceased, in the dense sprawl of Aokigahara.
“Sounds like the kind of place Jess goes hiking for fun,” snorts Sara’s unconcerned boyfriend Rob (Eoin Macken), who is powerless to stop her packing a suitcase and flying to Tokyo.
Dragging a wheeled suitcase behind her, Sara is initially waylaid by a woman called Mayumi (Noriko Sakura), who stores the bodies of the suicides in her eerie basement.
Thankfully, Jess isn’t one of the sheeted corpses and Sara makes her way to a roadside hotel, where she befriends a reporter called Aiden (Taylor Kinney).
He offers to help search for the missing sibling in the company of professional guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), in exchange for using Sara’s turmoil as the basis for an article.
“I think you should not go... because you are sad,” Michi sombrely informs Sara.
She ignores his dire warnings and strays almost immediately from the path to chase a phantom-like schoolgirl called Hoshiko (Rina Takasaki), who may or may not be a product of Sara’s febrile imagination.
The Forest is a deathly bore, which quickens our pulse only when it appears Sara might suffer a premature and grisly demise.
Dormer is emotionally frozen throughout and fails to catalyse any palpable sparks of screen chemistry with Kinney.
Messy flashbacks to the sisters’ past hamper any half-hearted attempts to generate dramatic momentum in the verdant gloom.
Instead of giving us thrills or spills, Zada gives us nada.