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The Cutting Room: Producer David S. Goyer talks “THE FOREST”

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Welcome to THE CUTTING ROOM, a new weekly column on FANGORIA.com that highlights the  stories that most share DNA of our print counterpart. Rather than just feature the articles and interviews that didn’t make the cut, this column is dedicated to providing a greater lifeline between FANGORIA Magazine and FANGORIA.com.

With so many horror films each year claiming to be “based on true events,” it’s always a bit of a surprise to find a ghastly real-life fright that hasn’t somehow been adapted onto the big screen. And in the case of Aokigahara Forest, the infamous lurid locale is finally getting an eerie exhibition in Jason Zada’s THE FOREST, produced by none other than DARK CITY scribe and genre vet David S. Goyer. In anticipation for the horror offering, FANGORIA recently caught up with Goyer to talk THE FOREST, twins in horror and when we may expect his next directorial effort in the genre…

FANGORIA: How did you first become involved with THE FOREST?

DAVID S. GOYER: Well the project originated with me. I was writing MAN OF STEEL and I was doing some research; I can’t even remember the six degrees of separation that led me down an internet rabbit hole to THE FOREST. Something connected to something connected to something and I found myself on the Wikipedia page for the Aokigahara suicide forest. I’m fairly well-versed in horror films, supernatural thrillers, books and whatnot and I just never heard of it before. I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of it or that no one had ever made a film about the subject matter before.

So while I was writing MAN OF STEEL, I wrote up a quick 2-page outline, which was the kernel of an idea, about an American woman who goes to Japan in search of her missing sister. I approached David Linde, who I had made a film with at Universal, so he and his partner, Tory Metzger, loved the idea. So we brought on a couple of writers to help write the script and tell the tale. Then we brought on [director] Jason Zada and that’s how it happened.

FANGORIA: You’ve been out of horror cinema since 2009’s THE UNBORN. What was it about THE FOREST that brought you back to the genre?

GOYER: I’ve always liked horror but I tend to like elevated horror. I tend to like horror that is more thought-provoking and that is why I like ‘70s supernatural thrillers like DON’T LOOK NOW, SUSPIRIA, REPULSION and ROSEMARY’S BABY. But those aren’t the type “horror” films they are making anymore. The trend these days are the microbudget films which are under five million dollars and that was just not something I was interested in. Fortunately Gramercy Pictures thought there was a niche there that could be explored. So we decided to do something that was relatively inexpensive but at a higher price point than those films.

I also wanted this to be elegant; I wanted the cinematography to be artful and the score to be classy. I also wanted the film to be in an interesting location so one of the things we were insistent upon with our modest budget was that we wanted to film some of the movie in Japan. Japan is not a cost-effective place to shoot but it was integral to the texture of this film.

FANGORIA: THE FOREST seems to be touching upon the J-Horror genre, which has been dormant in Hollywood for quite some time now. Was that a discussion before filming in terms of emulating that style?

GOYER: Yes well I love J-Horror films. I like THE RING and THE GRUDGE. One of the reasons I like them is because the visual iconography is a little bit different for Westerners. The rules are a bit different since it’s not like a traditional haunting film as Yurei do not respond to holy water or garlic. J-Horror is a bit alien and different for Western audiences so it’s a bit more evocative and unsettling.

That’s definitely something I liked a lot about the early J-Horror films. They’re definitely was a phase where they were in vogue and then they sort of went away and you would be surprised because the suicide forest would be the perfect subject matter for Japanese filmmakers. I was actually surprised that nobody had explored the suicide forest in film before, so this was an opportunity to do something different.

I’ve been to about three screenings with “regular audience members” and one of the things they’ve unequivocally responded to was the setting and the mythology of the forest. It just feels different and unusual to them, and definitely different than the kind of films Hollywood is churning out these days. They really liked that and they wanted to know more; they really responded to THE FOREST the same way I responded to the subject matter.

The Forest

FANGORIA: Between THE UNBORN and THE FOREST, the idea of twins is something that has come up in your career several times. Is that subject matter that you’re specifically interested in or is that just a coincidence?

GOYER: No, it’s just that I like twins. It’s funny because there aren’t any twins in my family and on my show DAVINCI’S DEMONS, the main villain is the twin as well. Now that you mention it, on the pilot of CONSTANTINE, he sort of meets a doppelganger that’s like an evil twin. It’s clearly something that I’m interested in; I’m going to have to ask my therapist about that. [laughs]

FANGORIA: THE FOREST scored a PG-13 rating despite the sordid subject matter. Was that something that you had to tiptoe around or was this something that was planned for?

GOYER: The rating is always an interesting debate and it was something that we talked about early on. We talked about whether or not to go R rated or whether to go PG-13, and of course there tends to be economics involved. PG-13 horror tends to do better and that’s not to say an R-rated film can’t do well, but the odds are against you. At the same time, there’s a push-pull if people think a horror film is PG-13 because it may not be “hardcore enough,” if you will. In any case I knew that I wanted this movie to be about ambience, sound design and what you don’t see. So I thought that we could do a pretty good film and still thread the PG-13 needle.

But I will give you a good example in terms of the subject matter and how there is a delicate negotiation with the MPAA. There is a character in the film we describe as “The Pillowcase Man,” and he’s a character who hangs himself and shows up later on. There was some discussion because if you go online and look at the bodies in the suicide forest there some sites that are pretty grisly. So if that character would have been on screen without a hood or a pillow case we wouldn’t have gotten that rating, so we designed the look that you see in the film.

Even though his face is covered, I still think the character is really disturbing, and actually, he might be more disturbing than if he didn’t have the case. In the end I don’t think we sacrificed much to make the movie PG-13; there’s not a ton of stuff that we left on the cutting room floor so I’m not sure if this will be a film you’ll see in an unrated version.

FANGORIA: Was there anything from the original script or about the mythology of the Aokigahara Forest that didn’t make it into the final product?

GOYER: There wasn’t a lot but there’s an early scene where she goes to the Aokigahara Visitor’s Center and they take her down to a morgue filled with bodies that had been found. If you look in that scene, there’s a brochure that, in the background, shows off this fox-like creature, whose name I can’t remember, which in reality is specific to the Aokigahara Forest. This animal is unique in that it has a very mournful howl and it almost sounds like a baby, so if we had more time, I would have loved to play with and explored that, especially considering that in Japanese folklore, foxes are always harbingers of the supernatural. But they’re a hard animal to film and it would have cost too much money, so maybe we’ll explore that in a sequel.

FANGORIA: You’ve stuck mostly to writing and TV directing since THE UNBORN; is there any chance fright fans will see you behind the director’s chair on a horror film soon?

GOYER: Quite possibly! I have a couple of projects in development; one is a feature film and one is a TV show, but we’ll see!

THE FOREST hits theaters from Gramercy Pictures on January 8th, 2016.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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