Though the Brothers Pang proved they could do horror with The Eye, Forest of Death strikes me as the kind of film that was made between other projects, most likely while they were catering to Nic Cage for their Bangkok Dangerous remake. A real keep busy excursion. An outline in a drawer dusted off and hastily embellished so that the result is a bunch of half realized ideas and dull elements.
It seems that people are dying in a stretch of forest. It is an unexplained hot spot for suicides and those that failed to take their own lives make claims of being attacked by a red-eyed girl in white. In addition, while investigating the rape-murder of a young woman, a detective was lost in the woods and found dead of a heart attack (the ol' "he died of fright" gag). Ah, so now you think it is just another J-horror, Ring inspired knock off? Not so fast. It gets far more convoluted.
Foxy but very sullen detective CC Ha (Shu Qi) takes charge of the case and searches for clues to nab the pretty boy suspected of the rape-murder. She crosses paths with salon-haired, dresses to hip to be a scientist, botanist Shum Shu-hai (Ekin Chang), who believes that he can tap into plants memory, that is, that plants have a innate ability to absorb nearby emotional events and retain them. So, of course CC trots Shum Shu-hai out into the forest with some equipment, the press, and the Ted Bundyish suspect, and everyone gets a flashback of the murder. Film over, right? No, thats just the halfway point.
The film cannot really decide just what to offer. Is it a spook horror? Well, the girlie ghostie bit plays heavy at the start but is dropped, only hinted at via the forest ranger who took up the job after is daughter committed suicide within the park. There is some relationship and science versus supernatural drama between Shum Shu-hai and his tabloid reporter girlfriend, May. More bodies turn up, corpses of people who disappeared long ago but have seemingly not aged or decayed, suggesting alien abduction. They throw in some hints about trifled with elemental spirits. But, by the end, all we are left with is a bunch of vague nods and some glowing-eyed smoke figures who just kind of stand around and be all smoky.
I think the intention was to play coy and mysterious. An end title card states that there are forests like this, particularity in Japan, where for some unexplained reason lots of suicides are drawn. Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure, "Hey, maybe a lot of people are drawn there because its an out of the way, private place to off yourself?" Anyway, playing to the supernatural is fine, but the enigmatic lack of explanation only works when you've got some actual subtext and dramatic drive. All Forest of Death has to offer is confusion, bland characters, dull plotting, and worst of all, no scares. It is one of those weird films where the technical acumen is fine and the elements are seemingly there. The film looks good, the casting and performances are dead on, but nothing really happens. There is build but no payoff. It is a film with no momentum. Maybe Danny Pang really needs his bro Oxide, because left on his own, he has made a movie that feels like something essential is missing.
The DVD: Image.
Picture: Known for their visual panache, you can expect a Pang brothers film to at least have a little vigor in the visual department. Expect a lot of green, obviously, and the usual glum ticks of the modern Asian horror palate. Technically, the print is awfully noisy. There are times when it is really swimming in grain. Likewise, the contrast is quite dulled with the mid range grays coming across as lacking in depth and definition.
Sound: Poltergeists from the pulp are complimented by two Cantonese language options, Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Surround, with optional English subtitles. Both tracks are decent enough stuff. Mixes are fine, good response, though there is nothing particularity jaw-dropping about the fx or score.
Extras: Nothing much. Image offers a trailer plus some more but none are original theatrical trailers, just Image produced ones.
Conclusion: I hesitate to even classify Forest of Death because to call it a horror, mystery, fantasy, or dramatic film feels unfair considering how half-baked all of those elements are within the movie. Maybe I'll just go with the "foreign" label. I dont think genre fans will get much pleasure out of the film and do not foresee it getting many repeat spins. Combine that with a basic, barebones DVD and I'm actually going to give this one a rare "skip it."