I’ve seen two movies in the past week about people surviving a nightmarish wilderness situation; Alejandro González Iñárritu’s epic frontier tale The Revenant, and some guy named Jason Zada’s first feature-length horror movie called The Forest. Up front, I’ll just tell you that I really liked The Revenant (I give it a wildernYES!) and I kind of really hated The Forest (a definite wilderNO). But was The Revenant as far on the good spectrum as The Forest was on the bad? Let’s look deeper.
Also, I won’t ruin anything major in The Revenant (because you should go check it out), but I will be honest with you, I plan on completely spoiling the entire crappy storyline to The Forest. So be warned. Forest spoilers ahead.
Good Revenant Thing #1: This is the (based on a true) story of Hugh Glass, a badass frontiersman who is navigating a crew of pelt hunters (is that the right term? Trappers, maybe?), until he is attacked by a bear and left for dead by his comrades. He spends the two hours after that looking for the jerk who betrayed him, despite only operating at around 7%, like my iPhone after I’ve gone to Michael’s with my fiance.
Bad Forest Thing #1: This is a story about a woman named Sara, who has randomly magical twin powers, and can detect that her twin sister Jess has gone missing, or something? She discovers that she went into Aokigahara forest in Japan, a real forest famously known as a place where a lot of people go to commit suicide. The entire film is a mystery as to why Jess traveled into the suicide forest that has no satisfying answer.
Good Revenant Thing #2: Leonardo DiCaprio will probably win an Oscar for his work in this (even though I think he’s been better in other things, personally) in a quiet, mostly nuanced performance; which I guess is good considering he’s commonly known for being the guy who yells a lot. Tom Hardy also makes a fun frantic villain, and Domhnall Gleeson has shown up in his third good movie in a year (Ex Machina, Force Awakens) as the talented redheaded guy whose name you can only kind of remember.
Bad Forest Thing #2: This stars Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones, half-shaved head propaganda lady from Hunger Games, a human equivalent of Lola Bunny from Space Jam) in honestly, one of the worst performances I’ve seen in the last 5 years. She is terrible in this movie. Like, really bad. She’s very wooden, and even her screams of agony sound bored. I’m not sure if she’s actually kind of a bad actress in general, or if she didn’t really have much to work with here? I’ll lean more towards the latter, because she’s alright in Game of Thrones. But she’s bad in this. The only other vaguely recognizable face in the movie is Taylor Kinney. And I only say he’s vaguely recognizable because he looks like someone photoshopped together Gerard Butler and Taylor Lautner; two people I recognize. I actually have *no* idea who Taylor Kinney is. (But he was a bad actor in this, too)
Good Revenant Thing #3: Alejandro González Iñárritu continues his filmography of making complex, deep, sorrowful films that appreciate the art form. There are breathtaking shots throughout that he filmed in real freezing locations to add to the realism he was hoping to achieve.
Bad Forest Thing #3: Jason Zada’s first film plays out like a bad college film. It’s blocky, and obnoxiously non-linear. Also, they didn’t even shoot it near the real forest in Japan, it was shot in Serbia. And then when the weather got bad, they just shot the rest in a studio. There’s even one shot in a pit where Natalie Dormer is stepping on the ground and you can clearly tell that she’s walking on painted foam.
Good Revenant Thing #4: It has great dialogue and the characters are able to interact with each other without it sounding like a high school drama performance. Good lines like “I ain’t afraid to die anymore, I done it already” are scattered throughout.
Bad Forest Thing #4: At one point in this movie, Sara starts quoting a Sara Teasdale poem from the 1920s, and Taylor Kinney’s character FINISHES the poem for her. I’d be surprised if you could find one person in the world who can quote Sara Teasdale off the top of their head, let alone two, AND then have them meet out of coincidence. That’s the kind of great writing that’s in this movie. Also, Natalie Dormer talking to herself while playing a dual role as both sisters in a flashback sequence was agonizing in the dialogue department. The fact that this movie has three credited screenwriters is the funniest thing about it.
Good Revenant Thing #5: Despite being nearly three hours long, it has good pacing and it never gets boring. When you’re constantly being dazzled scene after scene with fantastic action or grueling hardships, it’s pretty easy to get through it.
Bad Forest Thing #5: This is one of the worst edited movies I’ve seen in a while. The first 20 minutes of this movie are hard to watch. It’s more like a series of scattered thoughts than it is a fluent story. That is, until they get to the Forest, then it becomes a slowly paced, dull journey. This is one hour shorter than The Revenant, but if felt like a longer chore to get through.
Good Revenant Thing #6: Along Glass’ journey of survival, he encounters many new dilemmas and characters that don’t feel like a waste of time, but rather stepping-stones to his recovery and getting where he needs to go.
Bad Forest Thing #6: This movie has so many random scare moment type scenes that have no effect on the story and then the characters forget they even happened two seconds later. For example, there’s one scene she Sara finds herself in some hallway where the light didn’t work (and I literally had no idea how or why she was there), and then an old lady jumps out of the darkness at her for a jump scare,, and then she’s somewhere else in the next scene and I still have no idea why she was in that hallway to begin with. In another scene, she hears a rustling outside her tent, and she unzips the door and a ghost jumps out at her, then she flashes back to being in the tent, and continues the movie consequence-free of what just happened. It’s like the director was thinking to himself “I wanna have an old lady ghost jump at Sara scene, but it doesn’t really fit anywhere in the story… So I’ll jusssssssst put iiiiiit [closes eyes, flips to random page in screenplay] HERE.”
Good Revenant Thing #7: It has the best CGI bear I’ve ever seen! (and that attack was super brutal, by the way)
Bad Forest Thing #7: It did that thing where they draw on and stretch people’s faces in After Effects and make them demon scream for a second. Like that phone App where you can turn your face into a ghost face in like 45 seconds. You know that App right? The one that shouldn’t be in a movie with a $10 million budget.
Good Revenant Thing #8: After his long journey to find the guy who wronged him, there’s like an actual payoff. A payoff that’s pretty good.
Bad Forest Thing #8: I’m going to go ahead and spoil the ending here, so again, one last spoiler warning. So, the whole movie is set up by Sara looking for her sister Jess in the suicide forest. It’s established that no one even knows why Jess went into the forest, and the entire point of the plot is not just to find her, but to get an answer as to why she did what she did. After a grueling, boring movie, Sara ends up getting tricked by ghosts into killing herself and Jess ends up just kind of walking out of the forest. And then the movie ends. It literally gave a 0% explanation as to why Jess went into the forest in the first place, and that was the entire premise of the movie. That’s like someone promising you if you eat all the dirt in this bucket you’ll find a gold coin, but then when you get to the bottom it’s just a dog turd, and then you feel bad for eating a bunch of dirt. WHY WAS JESS IN THERE? WHY DOES THIS MOVIE EXIST?
Good Revenant Thing #9: The movie’s final moment ends on kind of a poignant note, which I don’t want to ruin.
Bad Forest Thing #9: This movie’s final shot ends with a ghost lunging at the camera, which if you’ve ever read a horror review of mine before, is something I consider to be the worst, laziest possible way to end any horror movie.
So was The Revenant as good as The Forest was bad? I’ll say no, because I don’t think The Revenant was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, merely just a really good one. I’d give it an B+. But The Forest was, without exaggeration, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and I’d give it an F-. It’s only mid-January, and I have probably already watched the worst movie of the year. Well, at least I got it out of the way.