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The Forest (2016) Ending, Explained

March 19, 2020
8 min read

‘The Forest’ is a horror movie that presents a thrilling story revolving around the infamous Aokighara Forest in Japan. The actual forest is often referred to as “the suicide forest” as it has become one of the world’s most-used suicide sites. Moreover, it is also believed to be haunted by the locals. The movie stars Natalie Dormer of ‘Game of Thrones‘ fame. She plays two characters in the movie: Sara and her twin sister, Jess. The former heads into the Aokighara Forest in search of the latter who has been missing.

The Forest Plot Suumary

Sara is informed by the Japanese police that her twin sister, Jess is suspected to be dead since she entered the Aokighara forest and has not returned for a few days. The forest is thought to be haunted and people who go missing in the jungle hardly return. She travels to Japan and heads to the hotel where her sister stayed.

At the hotel, a man named Aiden starts conversing with her. He is a reporter and offers to accompany her to the forest along with a guide named Michi. He wants to report Sara’s story in return. Sara tells Aiden how her parents had died after a drunk driver rammed into their car when they were turning into the driveway. Jess had ended up seeing her parents’ dead bodies while Sara had not.

In the forest, Sara finds Jess’s tent and wants to stay the night there if her sister decides to return. Michi tries to persuade her to leave and come back the next morning, but Sara disagrees. Aiden volunteers to stay with her. After Aiden sleeps, Sara hears noises in the forest and steps out of her tent. She finds a Japanese schoolgirl named Hoshiko who tells her that she knows where Jess is. However, she asks Sara to not trust Aiden and runs away upon hearing his voice.

The next day, Sara demands to check Aiden’s phone. She thinks that he has ulterior motives. She finds Jess’s picture on his phone. When Aiden continues to deny having met Jess, Sara runs away from him and ends up falling in a hole to an underground cave.

Sara sees Hoshiko in the cave once again and follows her. Hoshiko turns into a ghoulish figure, making Sara run back near the opening. Aiden finds Sara and uses a rope to pull her up. Sara’s fiance starts looking for her with Mishi and a search party.

Sara and Aiden go to an abandoned ranger station. Sara sees a closed room. A note is slipped out from under the room’s door informing Sara that Jess is in the room and that Aiden has held her captive.

Sara ends up killing Aiden with a knife after her demand for the room’s key turns into an altercation. She realizes that her distrust for Aiden had been a result of hallucinations. The door opens to a basement where she sees visions of her dead parents. It turns out that her father had killed her mother and then committed suicide. Her father’s demonic spirit grabs her wrist. To free herself, Sara uses a knife to cut her father’s spirit’s hands away.

Sara runs out of the ranger station and sees Jess running in front of her. Jess does not listen to Sara’s shrieks but she ends up making her way to the search party. She is alive and has been rescued. Sara, on the other hand, realizes that she is already dead. Sara’s father’s spirit grabbing her hand had been a hallucination. Sara had ended up cutting her own wrist and dying due to blood loss. Then, ghoulish hands grab her feet and pull her underground. Mishi glances into the forest one last time and sees Sara with a demonic face.

The Forest Ending Explained

At first glance, one might think that ‘The Forest’ has an open ending. The film takes its time to develop its premise, providing viewers only a sense of imminent danger from time to time. However, the final forty-five minutes is when the set pieces boil over for a neat conclusion. The final scene sees Michi glancing in the direction of the forest one last time. He sees Sara with a ghoulish face advance towards him in a swish and let out a scream.

This leaves several viewers to wonder whether Sara has turned into one of the forest spirits. Moreover, did she actually die? Was the forest actually haunted?

Is Sara Dead?

Firstly, the most burning question is whether Sara actually died. Unfortunately, she did. While Jessica managed to make it to the search party and get out of the forest alive, Sara died in the process of finding her. However, there might be some unclarity here.

Jess’s final words in the movie are the strongest indication of the fact that Sara actually died in the forest. After realizing that she has been rescued, Jess cannot believe that Sara risked her life to find her and is now missing. Hence, she glances into the forest, before stopping abruptly and says “That’s it. It’s silent.”

Jess’s words indicate that she cannot feel the mystical connection with her twin sister anymore. Sara had known that Jess had not died because she did not feel her twin sister’s death. According to her, the twins had an almost supernatural connection and could feel what the other was going through. Hence, Jess not feeling anything/silence indicates that this connection has been broken due to Sara’s death.

Such a connection between identical twins is referred to as “twin telepathy.” The belief that twins share a form of telepathic connection has been around for a long time. However, science has discredited such a connection due to a tiny percentage of twins actually reporting such experiences. Yet, the belief still runs strongly and ‘The Forest’ (which is fiction after all) uses this somewhat unproven characteristic. You can read more about twin telepathy here.

Moving on, the film aptly explains how Sara died. She sees visions of her late father’s spirit grabbing her hand and uses her dagger to set herself free. However, the spirit had been a figment of her imagination and Sara ends up cutting her own wrist and dies due to too much blood loss. What about the hands pulling her underground? This is best explained in the next section…

Is Aokighara Forest Haunted? What Did Michi See?

Whether the Aokighara Forest was actually haunted in the movie or not can be considered a question open to interpretation. There can be both, a psychological explanation and a supernatural one. Let’s start with the former.

One ought to remember the warnings given to Sara by multiple people at the beginning of the film. She is told that the forest makes people hallucinate and sees visions of things that trouble/sadden them the most. This is the reason Sara sees ghosts of her dead parents.

From a psychological point of view, one can imagine the psyche of a person who ends up being trapped in the forest at night. The place has a petrifying myth/legend and actual dead bodies of people who committed suicide. This ought to be quite stressful even for the most rational person. Hence, it is not too far-fetched to assume that people start to lose their minds in the forest at night and see visions of things that horrify them the most.

Michi is seen expressing his regret for not forcing Sara and Aiden to leave the forest at night. He thinks that Sara is in danger because of him. Hence, it could be this regret that makes him see a vision of a ghoulish Sara after realizing that she might be dead. If the psychological explanation is true, then Sara was not actually pulled underground by ghosts/spirits. She only hallucinated being pulled underground since she was dying anyway.

However, there is also an equally convincing supernatural explanation. The Aokighara Forest is said to be haunted by spirits of those that died there. These spirits are referred to as “yurei in Japanese folklore. They are said to be roaming the material world due to some unresolved emotional conflict or not having received proper last rites. Perhaps, Sara turns into a yurei and that is what Michi sees.

However, even with that explanation, it ought to be noted that Sara sees the spirits of her parents in the forest. This has to be a hallucination or another yurei showing Sara visions of things that trouble her the most since her parents’ spirits cannot be in the Aokighara forest as they did not die there.

Read More: Best Japanese Horror Movies

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