In Jason Zada’s The Forest, Natalie Dormer plays Sara Price a woman who finds herself flying to Japan to find out what’s happened with her twin sister. No one has been able to reach the wild and tormented Jess and after the school where she worked reports that she was last seen entering the Aokigahara forest, the conclusion seems inevitable: she went to what’s known as the “sea of trees” to kill herself. Intent on finding her sister and knowing she’s still alive — she claims she can hear her twin even when they’re miles and miles away — Sara teams up with Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to go into the forest to find her.
What may first appear to be a straight up horror film becomes a probing psychological thriller. Sara is warned that the forest is riddled with Yūrei, the angry souls of those who have taken their lives at the “suicide forest,” but it’s only until she comes face to face with her inner demons in the darkened forest that she must fight not only to find her sister but to come out of the eerie forest alive.
Ahead of the film’s premiere we sat down to chat with Dormer and Kinney on their shared television experience, the beauty of the film’s themes, and the thrill of working with first-time director Zada. Check out some highlights below.
On What Drew Them to Venture into The Forest
Natalie Dormer: For me, it was the script. It’s a psychological horror and to me the breakdown of the character and this journey that she goes on was a really interesting premise for me. I was really taken by the idea of a central relationship being between two sisters in a movie. That this woman is going out of love for her sister. It just spoke to me.
Taylor Kinney: I met with Jason Zada, our director. I knew that Natalie was attached and the script itself. And after meeting with Jason, just talking about the character arc and how I interpreted it, what I could bring to it, and then just our dialogue drew me in and I said yes. I’d love to be a part of it.
On Working With First-Time Filmmaker Jason Zada
“It’s a psychological horror and to me the breakdown of the character and this journey that she goes on was a really interesting premise for me.”
ND: This was such a collaborative project. It’s such a joy when — for me personally this is my first lead in a feature — so to be on set, in every scene, day in, day out, you just build a rapport with the whole crew, with every single member of the crew and that you don’t get on every job. And you become so tight, as a family, that you just really feel like a team. We both come from two really successful TV shows but spending that short space of time with a brand new crew and working with new people, exciting filmmakers, was just a great opportunity.
TK: And about this collaboration. We weren’t necessarily married to any one idea or one thing. Yes, we have the script and we had our scenes outlined but we also had creative in there to play. To try different things. Jason was cool with it. Natalie was cool with it. If someone had an idea, it was heard. We were on a schedule but it wasn’t as quick as television. So we had a little bit more to let these ideas kind of come to fruition.
On Visiting the Real Aokigahara Forest
ND: Well, we shot for a week in Japan. Those opening sequences when I’m in Tokyo, with the beautiful lights and the rain on the window. I mean, we were in Tokyo for a week and shot some beautiful stuff in the mountains, and on the train as well. Taylor unfortunately wasn’t with us — I wish you had been…
TK: I would have loved to go to.
ND: … there to go to the Aokigahara. But I went up for one day and visited the real forest. And it’s a very special place. It’s a very spiritual place. To the Japanese it’s steeped in superstition and a lot of respect. I went on a beautiful day when the birds were singing and the sky was blue but it’s not somewhere that I would want to be in the dark, on my own. And you have to be respectful and compassionate that people do go there with the intention of not coming out. And you just imagine that that would be someone you love and you know, it’s poignant. It makes you think.
On Game of Thrones and Why The Forest Is Scarier than Westeros
ND: Oh dear. Well, because the Forest really holds up your inner demons back at you. That’s what the Forest does. So no one is safe because it gets right inside your head.
The Forest opens in theaters January 8, 2016.