A group of American exchange students, studying in Japan, enter the woodlands of Mount Fuji equipped with video cameras and boom microphones in the hopes of catching something spooky and securing high marks on their class project.
However, Aokighara is no ordinary forest. Also known as ‘Sea of Trees’ or more commonly ‘Suicide Forest’, this location is the most popular place in Japan for suicides. Maiko, the film’s protagonist, is desperately searching for her mother who she believes took her own life in the woodlands. Each year a ritual takes place on 31st October (of course) which releases the trapped and tortured souls and allows them to pass over peacefully into the afterlife. Maiko’s intention to preform this ritual for her mother.
The first half an hour sets the scene. The gang find abandoned cars, suicide notes nailed to trees and controversial book, The Complete Manual of Suicide, that many people take with them into the forest. The trees are wrapped with tape so that people can safely find their way back out if they change their mind. These small details are true to real life – Aokighara is a real location where suicides happen frequently. The tape covered trees is almost iconic to its location. It’s obvious that the screenwriters and director, Stephen R. Monroe (I Spit on Your Grave and I Spit on Your Grave 2) did their research and kept details as true to real life as possible.
That being said, the forest was also transformed into a killing machine as opposed to a genuinely tragic place. It’s the type of site that can swallow whole objects, catapult someone six feet into the air and break someone’s leg effortlessly with just the pulse of a tree branch.
Grave Halloween had a lot of potential. However the real and unnerving location did a lot of the work for it. I was also integrated by Maiko’s story at the beginning but unfortunately, this film fell into an overly familiar routine. The plot was abandoned half way through in favour of killing off the cast one-by-one, only to be hastily picked up again at the end – almost like an after-thought.
It’s easy to spot the influences from The Ring and Cannibal Holocaust and if the intention was to create a generic horror film, it does the job well. There is a creepy child, creepy whispers and perturbing bones from limbs but unfortunately there wasn’t much originally here.
Grave Halloween will be released digitally and on DVD on 27th October.