John Hanlon Reviews

Film Reviews

The Forest Review

The Forest (now on DVD)

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Director: Jason Zada

Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Eoin Macken, Yukiyoshi Ozawa

MPAA-Rating: PG-13

Release Date: January 8th, 2016

It’s not easy to find family-friend fare on television today. With so many procedurals about crime on television, sickness sometimes it feels like shows that the whole family can watch are a rare breed. Fortunately though, there are still some strong shows– both comedies and dramas– on television (and Netflix) that are still wholesome enough for you to watch even with younger children. With that in mind, I composed a list of 5 great family-friendly shows.

For this list, I only included programs that are currently on the air (or Netflix). There are plenty of classic family shows (including beloved classics like The Brady Bunch and The Waltons) that are available on DVD but I wanted to focus on shows that are still offering new episodes today.

Dancing with the Stars: This long-running ABC competition is now in its 22nd season but it’s still a lot of fun. Each season features celebrities (this year includes actress Jodie Sweetin, football superstar Doug Flutie and reporter Geraldo Rivera) who are paired up with professional dancers. Each week, dancing couple is eliminated leading to the grand finale where one couple walks away with the beloved Mirror Ball. The premise has stayed the same but the show often livens the proceedings with new dances and fun theme nights.

Fuller HouseThe original Full House offered audiences a loving story about a widowed father raising his three daughters with the help of his two male best friends. The highly-anticipated spinoff show offers a similar approach with Candace Cameron-Bure taking on the role of D.J. Tanner once again. Now, D.J. is the widow who is tasked with raising her three young boys. Her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and her best friend Kimmy (Andrea Barber) are along for the ride in this funny and uplifting tribute show that stands out on its own.

Click here for our review.

Girl Meets WorldIn the 90s, Boy Meets World told the story of a young student name Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) who was growing up alongside his best friend Shawn (Rider Strong), a rebel from the wrong side of the tracks, and Topanga (Danielle Fishel), a quirky classmate whose strange personality always made her stand out in this class. In this sequel series, Cory and Topanga are all grown up and married and their daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard) is learning a lot growing up alongside her best friend Maya (Sabrina Carpenter), a rebel from the wrong side of the tracks.

Like Fuller House, Girl Meets World stands on its own but it’s also an endearing and warm-hearted tribute to the show it was spun off from.

Click here for our review.

The Middle: This long-running ABC comedy proves the traditional family sitcom is alive and well. Starring Patricia Heaton as Frankie Heck, the anxiety-prone mother of two boys and a girl, the show focuses on the family’s life in the heartland of Indiana.

With an oldest son who is constantly causing her headaches, a middle daughter who is overzealous about nearly everything in her life and an eccentric youngest child who always stands out, Frankie and her husband Mike (Neil Flynn) are constantly being peppered with new situations to deal with. The show is consistently funny and down-to-Earth and is always great at finding the humor in everyday life.

The Flash: In an era where superhero stories are often dark and grim affairs, CW’s The Flash stands out as being one of the most uplifting stories in the genre. The show tells the story of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), a young crime scene investigator, who is struck by lightning and given the ability to travel at an extraordinary speed. Instead of being glum about it, Allen becomes a classic comic book hero saving the lives of his friends and his city each week as he faces off against villains, who are using their supernatural powers for evil.

This is the rare superhero program that you can watch with your families. It’s a show that celebrates heroism and positive values.

Click here for our review.

The concept of The Forest is far more interesting and chilling than the feature itself. The horror film tells the story of the Aokigahara forest — a well-known Suicide Forest— that is reportedly haunted. The real-life location that this  story is partially based in has been the site of hundreds of suicides. According to the New York Post, visit this site
“It’s said that more than 500 people have taken their lives in the Aokigahara.” Such a location — as tragic as its existence is — could serve as the perfect location for a horror movie that was trying to stand out in the crowded genre.

Such is not the case for this mundane horror film that squanders its unique premise.

Here, check Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) stars as Sara, approved
a young woman who hears that her identical twin sister Jess — who was overseas teaching at a Japanese school — has disappeared. Sara flies into Japan after realizing that one of her sister’s last known locations was right outside the Aokigahara forest.

The build-up to Sara’s eventual travel into the forest is silly, to say the least. When Sara is spotted in the school where her sister taught, a classroom of Japanese students scream. They, it seem, have all bought into the lure of the forest and believe that Jess will never be seen again. They are also all so frightened by Sara — who, of course, perfectly resembles their teacher — that they can’t help but be scared.

Sara eventually finds her way into the forest with the assistance of Aiden (Taylor Kinney), a reporter she meets in a bar, and Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), a guide who shows the duo around the forest.

Director Jason Zada uses the location of the forest for many of the scares here but unfortunately, most of those moments are jump scares where people pop out of nowhere to jolt the audience out of its seats. There are several occasions where these jump scares bring Sara face to face with the corpses of people who killed themselves in the woods. Soon enough, Sara also begins hallucinating and not knowing what’s real and what’s not.

When she comes upon evidence of her sister’s campsite, Sara also starts making the cliched horror movie mistakes we’ve seen time and again. She decides to sleep in the haunted woods. She trusts people she barely knows. She begins listening to strange figures who appear out of nowhere.

The trust she offers these strangers leads her to question Aiden’s motives and the mystery that comes with that — who he really is — takes up much of the final act here. The mystery would work if these characters were truly compelling or interesting. Instead, it simply feels like a silly waste of time.

Dormer, who is such a commanding presence on Game of Thrones, can’t seem to overcome the weak script by Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai. The film relies too much on jump scares to really build up credible characters so the premise is undermined by its lack of depth.

A few nice final act plot surprises make the journey more compelling at the end but that’s not enough to compensate for the forgettable script here that does this premise and these actors few favors. And even those who appreciate the ending will still be dumbfounded about why the characters acted the way they did earlier.

Some of their actions feel like stereotypical behavior for characters in a clichéd horror film and despite anything good about this film, that’s exactly what this is.

Review by: John Hanlon