The director Roman Musheghyan’s film “The Dead Forest”, which lasts at about 70 minutes, tells the story of a group of young men, who decide to celebrate the birthday of one of them in the reserve called Dead Forest. It turns out to be a bad idea, because it is not difficult to get lost in the forest at night. It is also alarming that a mysterious ghost in a white dress is living there and she intends to catch and kill the young men one by one. The stricken heroes have to decide quickly and fight against enemies, both internal and external, if they want to survive this night.
The film makers claim that the film is based on real events. Maybe. The same thing was told about the famous American film “Blair Witch” (1999), but it was found out that both the city of Blair and the legends on the witch are pure fiction. But ultimately, this fact is not significant when it comes to the quality of films.
In order to make the illusion of reality more credible the trick of “found footage” has widely been used in the world cinema, particularly in horror films in the last 30 years. The trick is also used in “The Dead Forest”. This is when the personages are allegedly shooting the film with their cameras, mobile phones or with other devices, and the entire story is presented as reality. In fact the acting, the actions of personages and the relationships between them, the process of the story development should especially be natural so that the viewers accept the rules of the game. Cameraman’s work is also of a great importance, so that it is not visible but not too chaotic at the same time.
This and many other details are of paramount importance to create the illusion of reality in a found footage film. But all this has no value if the most fundamental element of a work of fiction, the drama, is absent. Probably the main problem of “The Dead Forest” is that there is an impression that the film is shot merely for this trick, and the human drama, impressive personages and the logic play a secondary role.
From the very first moment the film tries to seem terrifying. And it is expressed through endless music out of the shots, which already contradicts the film concept. In such movies, where the fiction is presented as documentary, the image and rhythm should be enough to create a frightening and alarming atmosphere. Of course, there is no soundtrack in the real world and its existence in such a film can eliminate the illusion. In “The Dead Forest” the music literally almost never stops.
Another element that may alienate the viewer and break the illusion of reality is the language. Will an Armenian, finding himself in such a situation when he got lost in the woods and his friends are brutally murdered one by one, continue using the formal auxiliary verb “e” instead of more colloquial “a”? The characters are sometimes using dictionary words that are not likely to be remembered at that moment. The exaggerated gestures, the accent, the theatrical sense of timing create an impression that the characters are always aware of what will happen next.
The same can be stated about the cameraman’s work. As it was mentioned above in the film contest the cameraman is one of the heroes. Sometimes the camera is flying from face to face in an artificial way and, vice versa, it takes obviously premeditated general vistas when it is not needed.
But the most important thing is the absence of the plot. There is a plot premise that the young men are celebrating a friend’s birthday in a forest, and bad things start to happen. But who are these people? Why should a viewer share their emotions? Occasionally some stories are revealed, some personages share some information about themselves, but they only seem to remain mere words. There is no biography seen “on the faces” of the heroes of “The Dead Forest”, therefore there is no human drama. And without that only the 70-minute wandering is left in the dark forest, where the ghost in white is seen behind the trees from now and then accompanied with the “terrifying” music.
“The Dead Forest” is the best proof of what happens when the artist turns a trick into a film milestone. The found footage is just a tool and not a goal. If used correctly it helps to create a realistic, tense atmosphere but it is not likely to carry an entire film on its shoulders.