In Japan there lies Aokigahara Forest, also known as The Sea of Trees. Miles of woodland near the base of Mount Fuji, the place has become infamous for one thing; suicides. On average, approximately 100 suicides a year took place there for many years. It is such a large issue, that signs asking people to reconsider this have had to be put up. It’s not certain why this occurs, some point to a novel released in the sixties, but there’s plenty to prove that the matter predates that. It might just simply be that it’s a beautiful, but lonely spot, so the ideal place. However, there are plenty of superstitions about the place. Now the information for this opening paragraph all came from Wikipedia. This means that it is as well researched as the SyFy channel TV movie Grave Halloween.
Maiko (Kaitlyn Leeb) grew up in the US, so never really knew her birth mother. Many years later though, she discovered that she ended up taking her life in the Sea of Trees, sending her a box of her effects. Now Maiko decides to go there, to try and put her spirit to rest. She also brings along several of her friends, who want to film a documentary of her experience. But this is a big mistake. One must respect the dead of the forest, for their spirits, the Yurei, still stalk the woods…
The prologue to this article really wasn’t joking about the research point. It really does feel like some screenwriter just read the usual sort of articles about the forest that circulate each Halloween, Wiki’d it, and then just called up some people going ‘dude, have you heard of this place? This will be awesome, we don’t even have to go to Japan, people can’t tell the difference between a Japanese or Canadian forest!’ Yep, this is actually all shot in Vancouver, par for the course for something made for the SyFy channel. It also has a mostly American cast, because of course why would anyone want to see a Japanese horror film that’s only about Japanese people. Hell, let’s just have almost all the Japanese characters be either bullheaded cops or turn out to be yurei (that might be a spoiler if it wasn’t really obvious from the word go). Even the lead, who’s supposed to be Japanese, actually is half Chinese. Close enough, right? Eurgh…
Yeah, the whole thing feels really tacky and exploitative, using a place that was the site for such tragedy and loss in real life for basically an Evil Dead knock off. It uses all the stock American horror archetypes, including a pack of annoying ‘dude-bro’ jock types, and doesn’t even try to justify why they are all in Japan. They are supposedly exchange students, but they never mention what they’re studying, or why Japan when these guys couldn’t even find their own bottoms without a map. As for the horror aspect, it’s clear that this so wants to be in The Ring or The Grudge school of J-Horror, but director Steven R. Munroe has no real understanding why those films work so well. The filmmakers just figured ‘have them dress in white and have long black hair, and people will be pooing themselves’.
There are a whole bunch of scare scenes that are almost laughably inept; can we please have a ban on any more horror movies when characters look like they’re being beaten up by nothing, it just looks silly. Finally, a lot of the MO of the haunting doesn’t work either; if one of the ideas being suggested is that a bunch of the supposed suicides are really yurei victims, then can someone explain how anyone can think someone with all their limbs torn off did it themselves?
Grave Halloween is a plotless, meandering waste of a film. A location like the Sea of Trees is indeed a potentially effective place for a scary story, but if you were to do such a story, one must tread carefully and with great tact. This does not. It ignores any deeper examination of the place and its sad history in preference to a bunch of jump scares, and thinking that a standard zombie make-up is something new if you stick a black wig on it. Still, what else does one expect from the channel behind both Sharknados and the director of the I Spit on Your Grave remake? Avoid.
Oh, and Halloween has no bearing on the story at all!