THE FOREST (2015)
Being gift-wrapped with a disturbing true-life backstory, you’d think director Jason Zada would have had a walk in the proverbial park making a creepy horror flick out of this but…no. Story takes place in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, which is a dense wooded area around the legendary Mount Fuji and is not only renown for being inhabited by spirits, but for an alarming phenomena of suicides being committed inside it. Our tale focuses on pretty Sara Price (Game Of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer) who travels to Japan upon finding out her twin sister Jess (also Dormer) has gone into that forest and disappeared. As she searches for her sibling, Sara soon finds the legends of this place may not be mere legend.
Zada and the three script writers responsible couldn’t have had a better backstory to springboard their horror, but instead deliver a generic, by-the-numbers and dull movie with the same tired jump scares and dreary phantoms that every generic PG-13 supernatural thriller is throwing at us. You’d probably get more chills watching an actual documentary about the place than watching this lazy movie. Dormer is pretty and starts out effective, but even she seems to get bored as her performance falls into a one note groove and she stays there till the end. The cinematography by Mattias Troelstrup of the Japanese countryside is quite beautiful, but otherwise we get the same tired clichés about a foreigner in a strange land, such as Sara just happening to run into a handsome American (Taylor Kinney) working there and just happening to conveniently always meet Japanese folk that speak english. Considering the true events it’s based on, how they turned this into such a snoozer is a mystery.
BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE (2014)
Written and directed by Nick Szostakiwskyj, this is part a noble effort and part a movie with a severe case of John Carpenter’s The Thing envy. The story has an archeological dig unearthing a temple-like structure deep in the Canadian wilderness. Soon after they discover it, strange things start to occur, such as their native workers just walking off into the wilderness in the sub-zero cold and some of their own getting unusually sick with increasing aggressive behavior. They lose contact with their home base and now are stranded with supplies running low and tensions running high. Have these men unearthed something that should have stayed buried?
As much as the flick tries to do it’s own thing, it’s Carpenter’s Thing that the film keeps evoking and imitating down to replaying certain scenes like autopsies and pointing guns at each other. Szostakiwskyj gives us some archeological babble mixed in with a possible malevolent spirit-god, but can’t let himself stray too far from Carpenter’s classic by also including an unnecessary ancient bacteria that takes over a person’s cells and changes them. The explanation of this sickness is very unintentionally funny, as is the upright stuffed deer used to represent this malevolent animal spirit that may, or may not, be a figment of the men’s imaginations. There seemed to be a sincere effort here to do something interesting, but Nick Szostakiwskyj never strays too far from his influences or properly fleshes out his own ideas. On a technical lever it’s photographed well, but the pacing is really slow, the editing is choppy and the acting wooden across the board. It’s obviously low budget, as even it’s attempt to replay The Thing‘s dynamite filled climax is done off camera, so no sets have to be demolished. Disappointing considering some positive word floating around out there.