The horror movie genre has begun to see a new uptick in popularity. From M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” to Michael Dougherty’s “Krampus,” scary films are seeing largely positive commercial reception, certainly encouraging other directors to promote films in this similar genre. In general, I like scary movies. I enjoy a good psychological thriller, preferably watched during the safety of the daytime, where I cling to the edge of my seat with anticipation and adrenaline. However, there’s one film I’m not seeing in theaters, or at home, or anywhere, for that matter. It’s Jason Zada’s “The Forest.”
It’s scheduled to come out on Jan. 8, 2016, riding on the swell of the consumerist holiday culture. This movie has a fairly simple, relatively unproblematic plot. The main character loses her twin sister in a forest and struggles to first, find her and second, get her back in one piece. On face value, it’s standard theater fare. So why do I urge its boycott?
The setting. “The Forest” takes place in – can you guess? – a forest, but not just any forest. Instead, it’s set in Aokigahara, the infamous Japanese “Suicide Forest,” where approximately 100 people go to commit suicide each year. It’s a gruesome setting, and best of all, it actually exists. Myths swirl around this mysterious glen, such plentiful material for an aspiring movie director. However, unfortunately, this setting is the only thing Japanese that carries importance in the movie. Zada structures the story around an American tourist, played by Natalie Dormer, and the only Japanese individuals exist for plot development and to play second fiddle to the distinctly non-Japanese protagonist. It’s standard cultural appropriation, where an entire ethnicity is only important so much as it affects the main character.
Moreover, Zada completely drops the opportunity to address the reason why the Suicide Forest exists in the first place. Nowhere does he address the mental health epidemic in East Asia, where the culture of shame forces problems to be shoved down to the bottom until they become too large to deal with. Nowhere does he address the government’s efforts to stop these suicides, such as posting warning signs urging people to choose life and not reporting annual suicide numbers to discourage those numbers from increasing. East Asia has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world, and this was a wonderful opportunity to address this to a large, diverse audience. Too often are Asians painted with a broad brush as a “model minority,” limiting their unique issues to stereotypes such as test scores. Not using an Asian main character to deal with an Asian problem in an Asian setting only furthers these misconceptions by perceptually preventing minorities from expressing their own opinions and issues in cinema.
In my opinion, it’s frankly degrading and dehumanizing for Zada to represent suicide victims as nothing more than a movie prop for scare tactics. He threw away an amazing opportunity to actually give a voice to a group which so desperately wants and needs it. And so I refuse to support his cinematic idea. I refuse to continue the silence of mental illness in the East Asian community. I refuse to accept the usage of Asian settings as “trendy” and “edgy” while only contextualizing them in the eyes of a foreigner, ignoring the native population’s perspective. Thus, I shall boycott “The Forest,” for I will not agree to financially support an entertainer who contributes to the oppression of a minority group.