Outside of Tokyo, Japan, at the base of Mt. Fuji, there lies approximately 14 square miles of forest. This dense woodland is Aokigahara, an undeniably beautiful setting that is marred by its dark history. The area is more widely known by the forest’s two nicknames: the Sea of Trees and the Suicide Forest.
The forest has long been associated with death in Japan. It is believed that prior to the nineteenth century, families would abandon the elderly and infirm in Aokigahara, sacrificing them to the forest to remove their financial burden on the family. The act was known as ubasute. In the modern day, the site is the second most common place to commit suicide in the world (behind the Golden Gate Bridge). Since the 1950s, it’s estimated that anywhere from 50 to 100 people take their lives in the forest each year.
Aiming to capitalize on the site’s morbid reputation is the upcoming film The Forest. MTV released the first official trailer for the film, which can be viewed at the top of the article. The Forest comes from the recently relaunched Gramercy Pictures, the subsidiary of Focus Features dedicated to action, science fiction and horror films. The film stars Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) and is based on an idea from Batman V Superman scribe David Goyer.
Check out the film’s official synopsis:
“A supernatural thriller set in the legendary Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. A young American woman, Sara (Natalie Dormer of ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Hunger Games’), goes in search of her twin sister, who has mysteriously disappeared. Despite everyone’s warnings to ‘stay on the path,’ Sara enters the forest determined to discover the truth about her sister’s fate — only to be confronted by the angry and tormented souls of the dead that prey on anyone who wanders into the forest.”
At first glance, the film seems to fall prey to the typical horror genre tropes and jump scares. There’s nothing in the trailer that hints there might be something unique about the The Forest. However, the film does have a few things going in its favor. Star Natalie Dormer is a strong performer and is likely to draw a substantial crowd. The Forest is also the feature debut of director Jason Zada. Having a new director isn’t always a confidence booster, but Zada is responsible for the award-winning short film “Take This Lollipop” – a unique and experimental horror short. It’s possible that his vision for the story isn’t easily seen in this first trailer and there are further surprises in store for the film’s release.
The Forest‘s greatest benefit is its setting, which is already one of the most foreboding locales on the planet. The signs glimpsed in the trailer exist in real life, reminding hikers that life is worth living in an attempt to prevent future deaths. However, the film should take great care in dealing with its location. Aokigahara is frightening, but that is largely due to the real life tragedies that take place there year after year. Hopefully the filmmakers can be respectful of that fact while still delivering a solid horror movie.
The Forest opens in U.S. theaters on January 8th, 2016.