Judge David Johnson tends to avoid forests of death. Except for the New Hampshire State Forest of Death...great campground.
First there was An Inconvenient Truth. Then there was The Happening. Now there's this, which doesn't really have anything to do with those other two besides the fact pissed-off trees might be involved.
Facts of the Case
The so-called "Forest of Death" is a thick, woodsy maze of dark brambles and scary trees that has earned its name from the surprising number of dead bodies that are found within its confines. Many of them are suicides, a bunch more are victims of violent crime, but in whatever manner they met their end, their ghostly souls appear to be tethered to the forest and, well, that just freaks everyone the @#$% out.
Scoping out the phenomena further are our three main characters: an up-and-coming tabloid TV reports, a botanist who's messing around with cutting-edge foliage psychic technology and a plucky police investigator, played by the lovely Shu Qi (The Transporter). What they find: no elves backing cookies in a tree, that's for sure.
Here's the question: can a movie that features a "plant lie detector" be functional at all as a compelling supernatural thriller? If anyone can turn such a ridiculous plot device into unnerving viewing, it's the Pang brothers. I'm a fan of these guys. Their visual work is a sight to behold and one need only to take a glance at their recent Re-Cycle, a trippy, effects-driven effort that was pregnant with imagination. They know how to put together an image and while Forest of Death isn't nearly the mind-bjorking that Re-Cycle or even The Eye was, there are still a handful of visually affecting moments. Especially, the ending, which nicely pays off the time you're going to have to invest.
And you are going to make an effort of this, because the movie doesn't reveal its secrets easily or quickly. The build-up is extensive, always pointing towards the big unveiling of what is that is occupying the forest and screwing with everyone's minds. Along the way the plot slightly diverges into that plant lie detector stuff, which is—there's no delicate way to put this—humongously lame.
Thankfully, when the narrative shifts back to the central enigma of the true, er, nature of the forest, the film regains its footing and once again ignites the slow burn to the finale. And the ending is a good one—weird and surprising, exactly what I expect from the Pangs. I thought I had this thing figured out but was proven dramatically wrong and satisfyingly wrong.
Again, if you're expecting Re-Cycle like CGI flair, you'll be disappointed. Forest of Death is all about atmosphere and mystery and judged by those standards, it's a success. Also, Shu Qi is pretty.
The film looks great in its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and the 5.1 Cantonese track is room-filling. The low point of the release is the extras, mainly because there are none.
Forest of Death moves along at a methodical pace but the ending is worth the trek.
Not guilty. Another win for the Pangs. And let's just ignore Bangkok Dangerous, okay?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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