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A group of friends (well, maybe…in accordance with grand mediocre horror-movie tradition, they don’t seem to like each other much) who head off to a forest to track down a creepy-looking and supposedly haunted tree described in a journal that the film’s protagonist Sean inherited from his grandfather. They end up running afoul of Satinka, a vengeful Native American spirit who paralyzes people by poking them with twigs and then kills them. (Actually, I’ve simplified the mythology somewhat on the ground that, honestly, it’s not like this movie actually earned a detailed discussion of its backstory.)
So far, so decent: good excuse to get up to the woods and show them off (and also show off a reasonably attractive cast). It does feel like the filmmakers are aiming for a bit of a Blair Witch type vibe here (even if it’s not found footage)–you know, people in a forest fucking with shit they don’t understand and getting in over their heads. Anyway, if the Blair Witch angle is deliberate, it’s a bit of a shame that the filmmakers don’t understand what makes Blair Witch work is the audience’s engagement with the characters. Specifically, the characters here are so sketchily drawn that it’s hard to give a damn about any of them–Sean and Satinka being the big exceptions. When Jennifer’s friend Kiyomi decides to drink tea made from an extremely poisonous plant (because, y’know, she so cray-zay), she doesn’t come off as endearingly wacky, she comes off as, well, stupid.
So it’s up to the cast to make us believe in the characters, and they’re just about good enough to scrape by. On the one hand, nobody’s reading lines off of cue cards or hilariously misdelivering their lines. (The worst performance comes from executive producer Naomi Ueno as Kiyomi.) On the other hand, it’s not like anybody’s actually convincing, either. The ensemble consistently comes off like they’re acting instead of being. Adam Green (no, not that Adam Green…at least, I hope not), who plays Josh, comes the closest to actually pulling it off.
On top of all this there’s the lackluster direction and design. I can see the merit of wanting to take A-horror-style aesthetic elements and apply them to American movies–William Malone does this very well–but like pretty much everyone else involved in this production, director Mauro Borelli simply can’t make it work. (For example, if your screenplay features several Native American characters, you might want to cast actors in those roles who can pass for Native American.) And the really damaging thing here is that almost nothing here is actually scary. The one or two conceptual elements that are actually horrific aren’t executed well, and the remaining 98% of the film is twigs sticking out of skin or jump scares: unexpected faces in rearview mirrors, people walking behind other people, that sort of thing–very little that’s actually scary.
Despite the thorough lambasting I just gave it, I don’t think Haunted Forest is an outright awful movie. I’ve certainly seen a lot worse recently (Mermaid in a Manhole, for instance). Yet there’s very little to recommend it, either: it’s more mediocre and bland than anything else. I didn’t even get a whole lot of entertainment out of making fun of it. Pass this one up.Have You Read...?