La Foret (The Forest) is the kind of show where a major character can be trapped in a burning room and still not generate tension. In fact, over the course of six hours, The Forest fails to create a spark of any kind. The Forest has the trappings of your standard mystery show: missing girls, a community with buried secrets, enigmatic characters to give the small town personality. But it lacks the je ne sais quoi to turn the familiar into something impactful. It’s a tedious, paint-by-numbers job that will bore genre fans and fail to win over casual viewers.
The Forest arrives on Netflix as an import from France. It’s about the investigation into the death of 16-year-old Jennifer and disappearance of her friends Maya and Oceane. In equal measure, the case unearths a fair number of bodies and even more secrets. Yet The Forest comes up lacking at nearly every turn. The central mystery is compelling, for a while. Delinda Jacobs, who wrote every episode, does a good job layering in clues. On a nuts-and-bolts level, the story is sturdy enough to be the foundation for a better show. The problem is that everything about The Forest feels workmanlike.
With only six episodes to tell its story, the plot moves quickly. The main players are introduced quickly: the missing girls, the families, the cops, and the town weirdos. I respect a show that doesn’t waste time getting to the heart of its story. The downside is that the characters are a collection of cliches. Character development, by and large, is shortchanged in favor of keeping the plot chugging onward. That would be fine if the plot is engaging, but I am hard pressed for a reason to care.
A major issue is the more time we spend with the characters, the less interesting they become. Most of them are dumb or at least make an overwhelming number of dumb decisions. Virginie (played by Suzanne Clement), the lead cop on the case and mother to one of the missing girls, is arguably a detriment to the investigation. She contaminates crime scenes with little regard for logic and her string of low-impact a-ha moments are always too late. Virginie is a dull protagonist and a surprisingly bad police officer. It makes sense, to a degree, that Virginie makes bad choices. But there comes a point where the sum of those choices becomes a distraction. By the third or fourth time someone tells her that she shouldn’t even be on the case, it plays like a punchline.
The most baffling aspect of the story, on a story and creative level, is the character of Eve Mendel. She’s supposed to be this mysterious presence and lynchpin to the show’s grander ambitions. Eve has a secret. Or rather, she has a black hole in her history. Near the village is the Ardennes Forest (the one the show is named after). Eve disappeared in the forest as a teenager and has no memory of it at all. It’s the forest Jennifer’s body was found in and, as we learn, a place where many people took their last breaths. Eve roams this forest like a child cautiously exploring a playground. At one point there’s a shot of Eve, topless, standing before the forest. It’s meant to be provocative but it feels like a shot out of a bad student film.
As played by Alexia Barlier, Eve is too thinly drawn to be anything other than frustrating. She’s the show’s queen piece and she pops up everywhere. There came a point, fairly early, where I began dreading any scene with Eve. For the story to hinge on a character this bland is a gross miscalculation. Barlier’s performance does little to elevate the character. I get the sense that the story and performance both bank on the assumption that the audience will be on their side. Despite Virginie being the main character and the one who actually drives the story forward, Eve is meant to be the show’s ace in the hole. I can’t remember the last movie or show that put all of its chips on one character and flopped so hard.
I was neither moved or surprised by the conclusion. I don’t need to tell you that’s a bad sign. But I’ll take this time to say you should watch Broadchurch instead. The Forest is the JV to Broadchurch‘s varsity. Hell, I’d even recommend the American version, Gracepoint, over The Forest. Consider this an “enter at your own risk” sign.
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