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Suicide Forest Village (2021) Review

Suicide Forest Village (樹海村) is the latest film from Takashi Shimizu, best known as the writer and director of The Grudge, both the original Japanese film and its US remake. But he has contributed a lot more to the genre both before and since. That includes an episode in another popular franchise, Tomie: Re-birth, as well as Flight 7500 and Howling Village.

YouTuber Akina (Rinka Otani) livestreamed her trip into Aokigahara, the so-called Suicide Forest, to prove that you can enter it and leave again. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. Hibiki (Anna Yamada, Eerie: Invisible Face, Murder at Shijinso) watches it, both horrified and fascinated by what she sees.

The next day while she and her sister Mei (Mayu Yamaguch, Last Ninja-Red Shadow) are helping Akira (Fuju Kamio, She Likes That, According to Our Butler) and Miyu (Haruka Kudo, Angry Rice Wives, Climb Miss Kotera) move they discover a hidden door under the house’s porch. And behind that door lies a strangely carved wooden box which, according to the internet, carries a curse. A curse that seems to be proven true when a friend who takes it for further study is hit by a truck on his way back to his car.

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Shimizu co-wrote Suicide Forest Village with Daisuke Hosaka with whom he collaborated on Shock Labyrinth and Howling Village. There’s a thematic link between that film. This film and the forthcoming Ox-Head Village. However, since I haven’t seen Howling Village, I’m not sure what the connection is. Regardless, Suicide Forest Village is a standalone film, and you don’t need to have seen one to understand the other.

What you might need however is caffeine, because at an hour and fifty-seven minutes, Suicide Forest Village runs too long and feels bloated. There are scares, but there’s way too much time and talk between them. And you need to watch carefully for some of the film’s creepier moments, such as a tree readjusting itself after a branch gets broken off.

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It doesn’t help that the group of online friends Hibiki ends up entering the forest with seem to have been written with the sole purpose of making them as annoying as possible. Rather than atmospheric and getting the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up, the scenes of them wandering around in the woods had my teeth grinding instead. Other scenes, such as a character who is found dead in the middle of praying, look comical rather than scary.

Similarly, the eventual, and expected revelations of family secrets offer little in the way of surprises. As soon as we learn that the girls live with their grandmother (Hideko Hara, Ultraman R/B: Select! The Crystal of Bond, Not Quite Dead Yet) since their mother (Yumi Adachi, The Usuke Boys, Tokyo Vampire Hotel) died it’s easy to guess how she died. So the guarded admission in the middle of the film comes as no surprise. Nor does how it all relates to the sisters and connect them to the Suicide Forest Village itself.

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Eventually, Mei ventures into the forest, determined to put the box and its curse to rest. Unfortunately, she runs into the same gang of idiots her sister went in with. While she made it out, they were somehow trapped and couldn’t escape. This does lead to some creepy and occasionally gruesome imagery, but it also recalls, probably unintentionally, another Japanese horror film Matango: Fungus of Terror, or to those of us who sat through it on Saturday afternoon TV, Attack of the Mushroom People.

Unfortunately, even the relatively strong last act can’t save Suicide Forest Village. After the first fifteen or so minutes, it feels as though the next hour and fifteen minutes are simply there to set up the last act. Actual scares seem to be an afterthought. If you’re in the mood for a film about a cursed box, you’re better off sticking to Hellraiser, or even Hellbox for that matter.

Suicide Forest Village is available on Digital and VOD platforms via Cinedigm and on the Screambox streaming service.

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