In defence of... THE FOREST
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
THE FOREST arrived in 2016 to relatively negative reviews. A blend of truth and fiction blended a supernatural horror with dramatic undertones of loneliness and heartbreak. A journey that takes it’s lead, Natalie Dormer, to the edge of her sanity as she searches for her missing sister in the suicide hotspot of Aokigahara Forest in Japan.
The film is a well executed chiller that puts character at the centre of its story and blends Eastern and Western cinema for an enjoyable journey with supernatural scares. While on the surface, THE FOREST proves an effective tale of a sister’s devotion to protecting her sibling, the psychological undertones picked up in this extravagant fan theory not only add a whole new dimension to the movie, but cranks up the emotion that drives the film even deeper.
Josue Rodriguez raises the following observations that completely reinvent the movie:
“I feel that this movie is more about mental illness than it is about spirits in the Aokigahara”
The film’s central story revolves around a young woman, Sara, who is searching for her twin sister Jess. Early in the film we learn through only one of two flashbacks that a traumatic event affected the two, their father had killed their mother and himself. As the events unfolded their grandmother told them to cover their eyes to which Sara did and Jess did not. This subconscious could be the ultimate divide of personalities leading to the film’s ultimate twist; There is no Jess!
Can a film be so clever as to allow the audience to miss its story completely?
Rodriguez’s theory continues with a series of key points (added to by editor Martyn Wakefield) that direct the attention of what is really going on with Sara. “Now, this theory makes a lot of sense if you pay attention to certain details I believe the director left there on purpose.”
1. Early premenitions
Early during the movie, we see a scene where Sara is going down a set of stairs to a basement. In the basement, she sees a yellow tent. From the outside, we can see two distinct shadows sitting inside it, but when she opens it, there is only one girl. This foresees events in the movie and with Jess being gone a number of years, why would she have the same tent, recognizable to Sara.
2. The observation of others
When she tells her boyfriend, Rob (Eoin Macken), that she needs to go to Japan, he has on his face a very concerned look. He looks somewhat tired and not shocked by the announcement. I saw this as someone who knows that she is mentally ill and thus tries to calm her down in order to make her not go, without actually trying to reason with her.
3. Familiar images
When Sara stays the night in the forest, she runs out at night and finds a Japanese lady who tells her to not trust Aiden. This makes her paranoid for the remainder of the movie whenever he's around. Now here is the deal breaker for me. When she asks him for his cellphone to see if he had any pictures of Jess, she yells at him that there are pictures of her sister in his phone. Aiden denies that he had ever met her sister and just looks at her clueless, not knowing what the hell was going on. I think, the picture she saw was one he had taken of her (Sara). She thinks Jess is another person but she's not.
Near the end, when she is in the cabin with Aiden, she loses it because she puts her ear to a door and she swears that she can hear Jess from the other side. Jess slides a note from under the door asking if Aiden was there, Sara answers yes, Jess tells her to kill him (I think). Bottom line is, if you look closely, the handwriting on both "sides" of the conversation is the same. Anyways, Sara grabs a knife and goes to Aiden and is all "Open the closet and let Jess out".
Again, Aiden is just completely clueless and tells her that the key is in his boot in order to distract her and try to take the knife from her. In the end, she stabs him, he dies. What's interesting is that the "closet" door opens by itself, yet all she can see when she opens it is that traumatic experience that she lived as a child. There is no Jess. At this moment, she walks down the stairs towards the little girl, and "sees" her parents lying dead on the ground. She yells at the girl that was there to run upstairs as her dad comes back from the dead and "convinces her" to slit her wrists. Again, only one girl there. So it begs the question, who wrote her the note then? It was herself. This further supports the theory because where "Jess" is supposed to be, we only see the event that traumatized her.
After she runs away from the shack, her sister manages to somehow run in the exact same direction at the exact same time. The way the scene is recorded, we can see some sort of parallelism going on between the two. When Jess comes out, Rob looks at her and asks "Sara?" Now, given that the two supposedly have different hair color, I'm not entirely sure he would confuse the two. When she doesn't answer, he asks "Jess?" to which she responds. He then proceeds to walk her out of the forest. I don't think he would have left that forest without Sara...my theory is that he did leave with her; he left with Sara/Jess. The reason why "Jess" was the only one that came out of the forest was because Sara faced her reality back at the shack and accepted that she was the one that saw her parents lying dead on the floor. Thus, two different personalities finally came together into one single person and Sara was forever lost in the forest that was supposedly one that makes people "face their sadness" and "find themselves". That's why Jess says "I can't hear it inside me anymore. The noise where Sara was, it's gone".
6. There is no Jess
Furthermore, apart from the early child scene with their grandmother, the pair never share the same screen. On first observation this could be for effect as Dormer plays both sisters but in reality, could this be the key that is hidden in plain sight? What if Jess was an imaginary friend as a child and it's that which locked onto Sara's deepest fears. A number of times throughout the film Sara explicitely says she is the protector of the sisters and bails out Jess, what if her personality is split into a wild and nice share, there's no given reason why the two would be different in personality so why so?
Now, having seen the film, this is a pretty sound explanation of events and quite frankly, puts THE FOREST as one of the best written films of recent years. The ambiguity deserves multiple views and never leaving a breadcrumb for anything more than a supernatural horror suits audiences on a multitude of levels.
This theory is completely unconfirmed to date however, the film is deemed as a psychological thriller and this has been echoed by star Natalie Dormer in a recent Meet the Actor session held at Apple Stores. There is no harm in seeing the film this way and like any good piece of art, it’s down to the viewer to decipher its meaning.