My favorite sub-genre of film is the killer animal movie. While a movie like Jaws rises to levels of brilliance, most are the formulaic gross-out fodder typically found on the Syfy channel on a Saturday night: stuff like Dinoshark or Mega Piranha. I enjoy them all.
The Forest falls somewhere in between brilliant and formulaic in terms of quality. The story is entertaining, the plot well-organized, and the scenery is gorgeous. But uneven acting and a bizarre end sequence keep The Forest from reaching its full potential.
Writer-director Ashvin Kumar creates a story born from concern about the health of Indian forests. Humans seeking land encroach upon forested areas, creating avenues by which poachers can more easily murder vulnerable animals. A result of the clash of two worlds is that 150 people are killed by tigers and leopards in India annually, according to a note at the start of the film.
The human interlopers in The Forest are a married couple: Radha (Nandana Sen) and Pritam (Ankur Vikal). Their relationship is troubled because of both his infidelity and their inability to have children. Pritam takes his wife to a wildlife reserve in the hopes that they’ll be able to work things out in a more peaceful setting.
City dwellers Pritam and Radha are clearly out of their element in the forest, emphasized by the fact that they speak English and the locals do not (at least not to each other). Most of the film’s dialog is in English, because either Pritam or Radha is in almost every scene.
In the preserve, veteran game warden Bhola Ram (Tarun Shukla) explains to Pritam that the overnight lodge is closed because of a man-eating leopard in the area. Abhishek (Javed Jaffrey) — a local cop who happens to be Radha’s ex-boyfriend — agrees to escort the couple to the lodge, along with his preteen son, Arjun (Salim Ali Zaidi). So much for the privacy Pritam was hoping for.
As the truth of the couple’s problems and Abhishek’s desire to reunite with Radha are revealed, the man-eating leopard makes its presence known.
In a scenario made for tension, the acting feels subdued. Abhishek isn’t quite menacing enough to seem like a mortal threat to Pritam, his rival. And Sen and Vikal deliver their dialog flatly until a scene in which Radha and Pritam explode in anger. There needs to be more buildup to the dynamic scenes when characters are in danger.
As I mentioned earlier, the scenery is breathtaking. The ruins of an old temple show us that man has no place here. Camera shots of wildlife are beautiful, and even the man-eating leopard is well-handled, apart from a couple of awkward CGI shots.
The results of the leopard’s attacks are pretty gnarly, but in a good way. There’s the right amount of gore to indicate that the creature is a killer, even if it’s not the biggest animal in the forest.
In fact, it is a leopard-inflicted injury that sets up a bizarre series of events that taint the movie’s conclusion. One character is wounded and bleeding profusely, yet none of the other characters attempt even the most rudimentary first aid. He bleeds out over the course of a half hour, and everyone seems to forget about him entirely whenever they leave his room. Ultimately, a voiceover attempts to explain the wounded man’s fate.
With a runtime of less than ninety minutes, there is enough time for Kumar to have provided a more satisfying conclusion and answer a few other nagging questions (big and small) the movie raises. For one: if the lodge was closed, why was some man giving Pritam a massage after he and Radha arrived there?