Friday, January 7, 2022

Death Forest


Death Forest
Masataka Ichimi

Movies based on video games are usually dismissed outright, but to be fair, their track record is not great. For every one that approaches quality like Silent Hill (2006) we get a dozen things as terrible as House of the Dead (2003). Death Forest is a video game movie (actually five video game movies) based on one of the most over used tropes in video games, where the player is forced to run around and gather objects while something pursues them. So, we are at the crossroads of two things with very spurious claims of quality and we should expect a complete train wreck? Right? 

Joker (2019)


Death Forest is very cheaply made and looks it. It mostly takes place in some nondescript woods and a few run-down locations. The direction makes the most of these empty and decrepit spaces, evoking an eerie hollowness. The flat lighting and barely there music makes for a minimalist spooky atmosphere. This is something I’ve always like about the direct to video J-Horror boom of the 90s-00s, using these preexisting spaces with such a naturalistic direction gives the outrĂ© horror and casual violence a much sharper feel.

The main characters are a band of interchangeable and annoying twenty-somethings. They engage in a level of casual cruelty with each other that makes me wonder why they are even friends in the first place. I understand that they are positioned to be fodder for the world’s grossest Pac-Man impersonator, but that doesn’t make it much fun to sit around with them while we wait for the monsters to show up. The only redeemable character is Kazuki Uchida (Daijiro Kawaoka), who actually has a motivation and a background. Thankfully he becomes a reoccurring character throughout the series.

"Bro, back up, I'm trying to play Missile Command."

The real star of Death Forest is Yoshie, a massive floating head that likes to chomp anyone who wanders into the forest. She is accompanied by a gang of naked white skinned zombies sporting monstrous grins on their faces. As absurd as Yoshie is, the movie uses her strange appearance and speed to make her feel like a real threat. The Stalkers,are her band of white skinned shuffling zombies who also manage to come across both comical and threatening simultaneously. This film is built on low expectations and if it couldn’t deliver on its monsters it was going to be an abject failure. Thankfully, Death Forest manages to meet its low bar.

So, in its own low-key way, Death Forest works as a video game adaptation. It take all the elements present in the game, fleshes them out into a simple narrative that works on film and then proceeds to deliver a little spooky atmosphere and some bloodletting. Great video game movies are difficult to realize but mostly passable ones seem well with the realm of possibility, especially if they include a giant floating ghost head chowing down on people.

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