Monday, February 15, 2016

Women in Horror Mini-Reviews: The Forest and The Boy (2016)

1) The Forest

Sara Price knows something is wrong with her twin sister Jess, so it's no surprise when she receives a phone call that Jess might have committed suicide in the infamous Aokigahara Forest, also known as the suicide forest. Sara drops everything to save her sister as always, convinced that she's still alive. She meets a reporter named Aiden at a bar and interviews her, as he's already writing a story about the forest. They journey together with a guide into the forest to look for Sara, but Sara insists on staying overnight after they stumble upon Jess's camp. Aiden offers to stay with her, but his presence may not be as benevolent as he seems. Is the suicide forest haunted and playing tricks on her or is Aiden responsible for Jess's death?

The Forest (an American film) tries to take on the Aokigahara Forest, a Japanese place famous for suicides, using only white American characters who are attacked by angry, vengeful spirits from the suicides. This film obviously has problems with the premise, the biggest being that suicide is a cultural problem in Japan that's just being used in the film for shock value. Characterizing the spirits of the people who killed themselves there as angry and vengeful is also insensitive to say the least. The Japanese characters don't get much screen time, being relegated to the sensible guide, creepy harbingers, and background nonspeaking roles. The only positive out of all this is that people who had never heard of the forest before looked it up and found out about it.

Now to the actual story. Sara is kind of a boring character. I don't fault Natalie Dormer because she acted well (and usually does). The writing is what was weak. Jess is barely seen onscreen at all. Their situation where Jess gets into trouble and Sara comes to save her comes from Jess's guilt. Their parents died in a murder suicide initiated by their father. Jess witnessed it, but Sara refused to, so now Jess feels like she should have shared that trauma with her twin. I like the way the backstory was presented, showing the actual events while she lied to Aiden. Things get muddied with Aiden. There's a whole subplot where Sara tries to figure out if he's an evil murderer or not. It distracts from the core story and isn't very interesting. Why isn't the two sisters in the forest enough? I liked the scenes where reality and hallucination mix, but the supernatural elements were underwhelming. Overall, it was a disappointing and pointlessly insensitive film.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

2) The Boy

* spoilers *

Greta needs a fresh start, so she accepts a longterm nanny job in England far from her problems. The elderly parents seem nice enough, but it's a shock when their son Brahms is revealed to a child-size, eerily detailed porcelain doll who they talk to and treat as if he were living. Greta sees it as an opportunity to get paid to sit around their big house doing nothing all day, but strange things start to happen. Her things are gone or moved while she isn't there. Noises can be heard in the walls. Is Brahms' spirit in the house?

Looking at the film, I thought it was going to be horrible. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a decent PG-13 horror film. I felt for Greta. She shared her story about her abusive ex-boyfriend who caused her to miscarry after a particularly brutal attack. Her grief is still fresh as she tries to move on. When she realizes Brahms might be real, she sees it as a second chance to be a mother and take care of someone who really needs it, so she starts following the rules set and treating him like a person. Everything is going well until her past in the form of her abusive ex catches up to her, after harassing her friends at home for information. After a tense evening with dinner, they get into a fight and Brahms is destroyed, reflecting the death of her unborn baby by his hand. Lauren Cohen is excellent in the role of Greta and you could just see the anguish on her face as Brahms shattered to pieces.

The big twist is that Brahms is alive, grew up, and is now living in the walls. The parents protected him as a child and faked his death after he killed a neighbor girl. I enjoyed the twist (even though I saw it coming about halfway through the film thanks to a similar twist in another film) and it made the entire movie much more creepy. I also enjoy films that appear to be supernatural at first, but prove to be based in reality. Brahms kills her ex-boyfriend, replacing him as abuser. All this time, he was living in the walls, spying on her and even making a Greta doll dressed in her clothes. His parents gave her to him as if she were a present. I'm not sure what the point of that was since they killed themselves not long after. Greta finds a clever way to best him by using his own rules against him, saving the grocery boy and leaving. Brahms is instead a proxy for her abusive ex who she finally overcomes. The future is bright for her and she can live on without the constant threat of violence. The only flaw was the ending. It's clearly left open for a sequel in a cheap, predictable way. Other than that, The Boy is an enjoyable and suspenseful film.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

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