“Well, that was quite an adventure.”
Subgenre: Shape-shifting Shenanigans
Release Date: 2023
FX: Not much, but in this low budget joint that’s actually a good thing
Some Clichés/Tropes: What’s In Those Woods Anyway, Backwoods People Are Creepy By Law, Who’s There I Mean It, Surprise Motherfuckers
Where I Watched: Screener (but available on Amazon Prime and Tubi)
Story: A foursome of twenty-somethings gear up for a house in the woods vacay. A couple, and two friends the couple want to match up. And hey, the house they’re going to is the same one where murders happened in the prologue! Who’da thunk? What could go wrong? Hey, what’s that noise?
Spooky or Nah?: if you looked at the movie poster and saw that it was just an image without actual film details and thought, this is probably a low budget horror movie? Then congratulations darling, you win. (What, I don’t know. But you win it.) This is a joint from DBS Films, who gave us The Haunting of the Murder House last year. Does it stack up? Well…
Forest definitely has the love of the genre in its bones. The basic “halt who goes there” plot takes a fun turn with shape-shifters as the Big Bad, though the creators wisely keep the original form of the creature under wraps for the most part, using Bughuul-esque jump scares to give viewers an idea of exactly what Our Gang is dealing with. But besides that, the shifter uses the visages of the characters to keep
the budget on an even keel everyone on screen questioning exactly who’s who and what’s what. For the most part, that’s successful. I couldn’t help but want a bit more from the back-and-forth body swapping though. There’s plenty of scary setup that’ll get your mouth watering for some good ol’ fashioned mayhem, but it feels like most of the punches get pulled before things get really interesting.
A part of that may be due to the cast typically delivering lines in the same overall tone no matter who’s actually inside that body. Don’t get me wrong; the cast does its best and even my cold, hateful heart could see they really dug into their gig. I’m gonna lay this at the feet of the director, who could have done a bit more to bring out varying emotions (or in the shifter’s case, lack thereof) from scene to scene. There were moments when the dialogue between characters showed genuine talent, and the cast’s ability to connect with each other (especially Chloë Marie Rhoades and Stephanie Kirves; sorry, IMDb doesn’t list the character names for the leads, and I have the name-recall of a fruit fly.) Special shout out to Benjamin L. Newmark as overly thirsty backwoods dude Rodger, who understood the assignment and hammed it up, while snarking at the “big city” kids.
As with House, the cinematography is well done for a low-budget spookfest, particularly the lighting, and shifter-POV tidbits. And though I’m sure this was simply filmed at a friend’s pad, the house and local area looks, well, like a place someone would actually Airbnb at. I have to point out one dialogue FUBAR; “One two, Roger’s coming for you…”? That’s treading real close to Nightmare on Elm Street infringement, and ripped me out of the story immediately. Y’all. Y’ALL. I could almost hear the New Line copyright attorneys.
Okay, bonus round? Things I loved: the creepy-ass images during the opening credits, that Our Gang’s first impulse is to leg it when things start to get weird (they quash it, but still), that using gasoline to start a fire will have a hilarious effect, and that end credits song. The end credits song slaps. It’s goofy, nasally, retro-Aughts indie perfection and I love it. I just wish they had a song list, rather than just listing the musicians. Things I didn’t: all the montages. I’d rather have a few scenes where the characters get to know each other better, and/or just strengthen their friendship. Instead, there are at least three montages where we see Our Gang doing stuff together, with the same lightweight adult contemporary music playing over the goings-on. Remember Friday the 13th‘s strip monopoly? Or Scream’s house party movie-time? Gimme some of that. At an hour and fifteen minutes, Forest would not have suffered from a little bit of shenanigans. Flesh ’em out a bit before they get… fleshed out. (Okay, so The Montage Song is kind of a cute earworm. But the up-tempo feels strange in a film that’s trying to scare you.)
Forest is okay for what it is; a low budget horror trying it’s best to scare you. The shifter storyline gets a lot of “who’s who” as the film progresses, but too often it’s too easy to figure out. And the end/climax (yep, they happen at the same time in here) is something anyone could see coming a mile away, but could have been truly effective with a bit more sleight-of-hand in blocking and camera setup. But I can’t be mad at you, Forest. You’re trying, and that shows. Just next time? Give me the good stuff I know you’ve got hiding behind your back. You’ve got the juice, spill it.