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Haunted Forest (2007)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/26/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/13/2007
Although many wouldn't like to admit it, low-budget horror films are a dime-a-dozen. Many of these moves are released each year, most direct-to-DVD, and thus, they must do something special if they hope to stand out from the crowd. Essentially, these movies have one of two choices, they can either have a unique story or unique visuals -- we rarely see a film which has both. Haunted Forest is a new film of this ilk which has opted to go for the visual side. Will the story be enough to make the film interesting?
An amateur photographer disappears in the forest, and when his film is developed, a picture of a mis-shapened tree is revealed. Sean (Sevy Di Cione) recognized the tree from a notebook given to him by his grandfather, who was a Native American. The legend states that a burial ground filled with treasure can be found beneath the tree. The legend also states that a guardian of the forest, named Satinka (Kira Hayashi) roams the area protecting it from interlopers. It's said that she marks her victims by stabbing them with a branch, and she then pulls them underground.
Sean convinces Josh (Adam Green) and Flipp (Edoardo Beghi) to join him on a search for the tree. Once they enter the woods, they all begin to have strange visions, and Flipp sees Satinka everywhere. They make camp for the night, and when they awake the next morning, Flipp is gone. Meanwhile, Jennifer (Jennifer Luree) and Kiyomi (Naomi Ueno) are in the forest looking for rare flowers, when suddenly Kiyomi disappears. Sean and Josh meet Jennifer and they decide to look for their friends together. However, they all begin to see Satinka, and soon the spirit of the forest takes more victims.
Again, Haunted Forest goes a certain level of visual aesthetics and once one looks at the resume of writer/director/cinematographer Mauro Borrelli, this isn't surprising. Borrelli is an illustrator and conceptual artist and the list of films on which he's worked reads as a who's-who of recent Hollywood blockbusters. Titles such as Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events certainly stand out for their visual flavor. Thus, it can be assumed that Borrelli has an eye for visuals, and that certainly comes through in Haunted Forest. It's made clear early on that Satinka's presence fills the entire forest and that she can appear anywhere at anytime. This point is driven home from the outset as we see a face lying beneath the pine needles on the forest floor. Borrelli does a great job of placing Satinka's stark, white face in the corners of the frame, only to quickly disappear when the characters turn to look at here. This makes for some quality jump scares as the ghost will abruptly appear in a shot. The look of the haunted tree, with its branches which suggest human arms, is also noteworthy.
However, the visuals can only carry the film so far, and the story in Haunted Forest leaves much to be desired. In short, the movie's plot is too vague and the characters are underdeveloped. We learn very little about Sean and his crew (How did they get their hands on the photographer's pictures?), nor do we know why Jennifer and Kiyomi are in the woods. (Why are they collecting flowers? Are they students? Is it a hobby?) The movie places its emphasis on the legend of Satinka, going as far as having a sepia-toned flashback, but it sheds little light on why she's killing everyone in sight.
The first 2/3 of the film are somewhat interesting, but the last act is very muddled. Borrelli may have a good eye, but he doesn't do a good job with pacing or suspense. For example, when Flipp disappears, it's difficult for the audience to be concerned because, A) we don't know much about him, and B) the movie itself doesn't seem very worried. The oddest part of Haunted Forest is the look of Satinka herself. Despite the fact that we are told she is Native American, the actress playing her is clearly Asian, and looks as if she belongs in a Japanese horror film.
As far as low-budget horror films go, you could do much worse than Haunted Forest. The movie's Evil Dead meets The Ring approach may be a bit odd, but the film has a nice look and delivers some note-worthy jump scares. However, the story runs out of gas about 2/3 of the way through the film and you may find yourself fast-forwarding to see how it ends. Mauro Borrelli definitely shows talent as a visualist and if can get his hands on a decent script, he could make a great film.
Haunted Forest makes like a tree on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I'm not certain if the movie was shot on film or HD-DV, but the image looks very good. The picture is sharp and clear, showing only a touch of grain and no defects from the source material. The landscapes look great here, as the image has a ton of depth. The picture is never too bright or too dark and the action is always visible. The colors are fine. I noted some video noise at times, but overall, for a film of this scale, the transfer looks good. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Stereo effects are noticeable, but it's the occasional "jump" scares which are punctuated by audio from the surround speakers and subwoofer which make this track slightly above average.
There are no bonus features on this DVD.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long