Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Haunted Forest (2007)

Sick of all the J-Horror rip-offs that have flooded the horror market since the success of Ringu, Ju-On and their American remake counterparts The Ring and The Grudge? Then you’ll do well to skip the unoriginal and boring Haunted Forest. This newly released Lions Gate film is essentially a J-Horror rip-off dressed up as a Native American ghost story.

Three men head out into the forest after an amateur photographer disappears in the forest. All that was recovered from the photographer was his camera and the three men manage to get hold of the very last photographs he took. The one they are particularly interested in shows an old, gnarled tree with outstretched branches that resembles a person. The men are searching for this very tree, which is depicted in one of their Native American grandfather’s journal. The tree also houses a burial ground beneath its roots, home to a supposedly large treasure which the men are searching for. Problem is, the tree is tied to the legend of Santika, a Native American woman whose soul is in control of the evil tree. She now haunts the forest, attacking anyone who dares enter.

Meanwhile, two women are also in the forest, searching for rare flowers. As people from both parties begin to go missing, the remaining members team up to try and discover the secrets behind Santika and the cursed tree and realize they aren’t alone in the forest…

Haunted Forest started out promisingly, with a mysterious and startling opening. The premise of the creepy lookin’ tree was original and really started to draw me into the story…until the story hit a brick wall at 90 miles per hour and splattered all over the place. Overly clich├ęd jump scares, unnecessary characters, a repetitive storyline and “twists” that are all too familiar really bogged down the film.

Writer/director Mauro Borrelli, who has had more experience working in the art department for such films as Pirates of the Caribbean, Evan Almighty and Sleepy Hollow, among many others, made Haunted Forest on a low budget, and while the film does look great and there are even some very eerie shots towards the end, it just doesn’t cut it. To Mr. Borrelli’s credit, there are quite a few jump scares that startled me a little, but they just felt like cheap imitations of better J-Horror films.

The actors don’t really stand out and fade into distant memory, right along with the rest of the film. Also, we kinda just get thrust straight into the story, so there is no room for character development and I didn’t find myself caring too much about what happened to each character.

The story, written by Borrelli, really doesn’t go anywhere and ends up dragging. I mean, how many shots can you have of people running lost through the woods, spying glimpses of a woman with long, black hair? The film becomes repetitive after about the fifth shot of someone running through the woods, calling a missing person’s name. The “twist” at the end doesn’t work well either, because any horror fan worth their salt should see it coming.

Sadly, Haunted Forest has a great premise (how often are Native American legends, real or not, used in horror?) but doesn’t get anywhere near its full potential. If you are unfamiliar with J-Horror, Haunted Forest might thrill you for a while, but its repetitive storyline will wear you out, and not in the good way.

Available on Amazon!

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