One of the leading creative forces behind the original J-horror craze of the early 2000s, Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On: The Grudge, The Grudge, The Grudge 2) is back with his latest release, Suicide Forest Village. And Shimizu doesn’t stray far from his wheelhouse. A second installment of a planned trilogy of thematically-related movies, Shimizu follows his 2019 release, Howling Village. For the uninitiated, Aokigahara, or ‘Sea of Trees’, is a large Japanese forest most widely known as a popular destination for suicides. It’s a locale that seem ripe with horror potential. Too bad Hollywood already bombed with The Forest, a scare-free swing and miss. Does Shimizu fare any better?
Hibiki, a quiet and eccentric teen, spends most of her time in her bedroom, chatting online about ghosts and hauntings. One afternoon, Mei, Hibiki’s sister, drags her out of her room to help friends move into an old house. During the move, the sisters discover a mysterious wooden box beneath the house. Soon thereafter, tragedy strikes anyone who comes into contact with the box. As they learn more about the box, Hibiki, Mei, and their friends are drawn to legends of a mysterious village hidden in a forest long considered haunted.
Suicide Forest Village An Erie Slow-Burn
Perhaps what’s most impressive about Shimizu’s latest release is its ability to maintain a sense of dread over nearly two hours. From start to finish, Shimizu soaks Suicide Forest Village in moody atmosphere. This is the kind of horror movie where your expectations for the characters’ prospects are pretty low. And it’s a realistic concern as the Japanese filmmaker makes it clear early on that most of the cast aren’t safe. As a result, levels of tension are fairly constant. In spite of its length, Suicide Forest Village also frequently punctuates its atmosphere with scares.
From start to finish, Shimizu soaks Suicide Forest Village in moody atmosphere.
Since Ju-On: The Grudge and his American remake and sequel, Shimizu has expanded his palette of scares. Fortunately, Shimizu discards creepy kids and jerky-moving ghosts. Instead, Suicide Forest Village trades in well-delivered shocks. And the shocks come almost immediately upon introducing the movie’s mysterious wooden box. Amongst some of the best jolts, an early car accident and scene just outside a hospital are stand-outs. But Shimizu adds body horror as the movie progresses. By the movie’s third act, you may want to re-consider what’s inside that box. Moreover, Suicide Forest Village finds creepy and inventive ways to use its forest for maximum scares.
Suicide Forest Village Capably Mixes Horror, Mystery, and Family Tragedy
Yet Suicide Forest Village also benefits from Daisuke Hosaka and Shimizu’s story structure. In addition to a compelling mystery, Hosaka and Shimizu withhold and divulge bits of story with expert timing. As more connections are made, earlier scenes take on renewed importance. Like the movie’s scares, Suicide Forest Village’s storytelling framework keeps audiences fully invested even in quieter scenes. And just how how he approaches his scares, Shimizu employs different narrative devices, including melding past and present, to make critical reveals.
Does everything that happens in the movie make sense? Not really?
Of course, Suicide Forest Village does kind of drift into some nonsensical story territory. Does everything that happens in the movie make sense? Not really. Somewhere in the movie is a message about those people we abandon when they’re no longer seen as useful. But it’s an idea lost in the movie’s overt horror elements. What does work well in the story is the relationship between sisters, Hidiki and Mei. There’s a family tragedy embedded early here that only fully shows itself in the climax. And it’s this tragedy that lingers with you after the final scene.
Suicide Forest Village A Genuinely Frightening Horror Experience
Once again Shimizu serves up a reminder that he still knows his way around a good horror movie. Occasionally, Shimizu’s storytelling gets a bit convoluted. Not everything makes a lot of sense. But Shimizu balances horror and mystery making for a consistently eerie viewing experience even at close to two hours. Just the disturbing – and often inventive – imagery alone elevates Suicide Forest Village. And if it’s not always clear why things happen, Shimizu also creates a compelling family tragedy that lend the movie an emotional core.