SEPTEMBER 20, 2010
The nice thing about horror movies is that you can pretty much come up with or do anything, because it doesn’t have to follow real world logic, nor does any part of the plot have to be based in reality. But sometimes folks take that a little too far – there’s creative thinking and then there’s just plain silly. Forest Of Death definitely belongs to the latter category, as a giant chunk of the film revolves around whether or not a “plant based lie detector” will work. Worse, it does.
I found the plot (plant?) points in Little Shop Of Horrors and The Happening easier to swallow than the ones Danny Pang (pretty much sans Oxide, which I guess is not something that they should do too often) and frequent collaborator Cub Chin came up with. We are expected to believe that plants can not only sense that we are going to hurt them, but also when we’re just PRETENDING to want to hurt them. And that they can help us solve murders (with the aforementioned lie detector). While I appreciate that this line of thinking results in lines like “I’m a botanist, not an exorcist!”, it just doesn’t quite fit the actual plot of the movie, which involves suicides, rapes, and murders.
And also what makes a good television show. As with many Pang films, the whole movie is just an excuse to deliver a fairly simple message (such as Re-Cycle’s “Don’t abandon your children.”). Here it’s “Support your girlfriend”, as our botanist hero keeps giving his girlfriend grief about the content of her crappy tabloid TV show, and refuses to help her “lie” to the public about ghosts and what not. But he does help another woman, a cop who wants his plant lie detector to help her solve the murder she is investigating. And all of this basically comes down to the girlfriend becoming despondent and possibly suicidal, thinking the guy will leave her for the cop. And this is crucial, because the forest of death only takes people who want to die.
Seriously, what the hell are these dudes smoking? This is the type of stuff that barely passes for coherency in a Final Fantasy game, and at least there once everyone shuts up you can ride a Chocobo around and maybe kill a dragon or one of those little cactus dudes. I wanted to like the movie, and at times I did, but the blending of such goofy plot concepts and the over-reaching rape/suicide stuff just doesn’t work.
Plus it’s just too damn slow. I don’t mind a slow-burn, or even a lot of talking, but there’s no real sense of danger to any of the proceedings until the very last reel. Maybe if there was a serial killer in the forest or something, it could play that up to create suspense, but the murder our lady cop is investigating seems to be an isolated incident, and the killer has been caught anyway (though he claims innocence – so of course her first idea is to prove he’s lying with a goddamn plant lie detector). I can put up with silly plot devices as long as I’m caught up in the mystery or suspense, but not if the plot is otherwise revolving around whether or not some kind of unlikable botanist will hook up with a cop named CC Ha (awesome name) or remain with his overly sensitive TV reporter girlfriend.
At least it looks nice. Some of the effects during the climax are a bit questionable, but Pang manages to make the movie visually interesting despite the fact that it all takes place either in non-descript apartments or the same patch of forest (of death). And he can definitely build scenes from very little – I liked the bit where the cop was spray painting numbers on the trees in order to count her way back out, only to get lost anyway as the trees began seemingly moving around. The buildup to the climax, set during a rainstorm, is also quite good, as you still don’t know if the trees are causing people to commit suicide or not (p.s. this movie predates The Happening), so there is some minor concern for the girlfriend, who has finally broken down after hearing that her boyfriend was off with CC Ha again (and she inexplicably has a box cutter with her).
The sound is questionable though. I hope it was just the Netflix transfer, but it seems to have been mixed very poorly. I had to crank my receiver up to 50 (it’s usually 40 at most) to hear it and it was still low for all the dialogue, yet music and a few sound effects sounded fine (or now, too loud). The picture was fine, and I don’t recall this being an issue with any other Netflix streams, so perhaps it was a problem with their original source? Either way, I kept chuckling, because I’d be turning it up to hear dialogue that I couldn’t understand anyway (it was subtitled), and 90% of the movie is just people talking.
One thing about the ending (spoiler ahead) – it’s ambiguous, but it seems to be suggesting that it’s not ghosts or anything supernatural, but aliens that are causing all of the strange occurrences in the forest. This is much easier to swallow than the plants having ESP thing, but I wish they had explored it a bit more, because the theory (that they are studying humans to see why they put so much weight on matters of the heart) is interesting, and the type of “silly” that works in these sort of films. It’s not every day you see a horror movie asking “Why do we love?” But an interesting idea cannot save a movie unless its adequately explored; if anything it just makes it that much more of a failure. I’d rather they were just running around the forest for no reason than knowing they had something unique worth exploring and failed to exploit it.
I really dug Re-Cycle and The Eye 2, but I’m still not sure if the Pang brothers are one (well, two) trick ponies or if they keep getting screwed over. I can buy that there was interference on The Messengers, and they seemingly didn’t want to do Eye 3 at all, but how many times can they give excuses? At this point they have more misses than hits, and they also go all over the place with alarming frequency (in the past 3 years they have made crime, comedy, romance, horror, and war films), suggesting that they’re just trying everything and seeing what works. Oxide’s film Diary sounds kind of interesting, so I’ll give that one a look, but if it’s lousy I think I’m going to have to give up on these guys. I mean, they’d have to make a dozen films as good or better than Re-Cycle for me to forgive them for Bangkok Dangerous, which holds the distinction of being my least favorite Nicolas Cage film (which is saying quite a bit – the guy was in Trapped In Paradise for Christ’s sake).
What say you?