Taboo-busting Japanese auteur Sion Sono’s latest outing is now streaming on Netflix. The Forest of Love sees two women, a film crew, and a charming con man they suspect of being a serial killer intersect in bizarre fashion. As Daniel Rutledge writes, the film has the weird, punk kind of energy many of his movies have, but is a fairly gruelling watch that may be too nasty and too long for its own good.
The latest cult director to make the move to Netflix is Sion Sono, the taboo-busting Japanese auteur behind NZ International Film Festival hits including Cold Fish and Love Exposure. The Forest of Love is packed with some of his favourite things—graphic suicide, intense cruelty, body disposal by way of thorough dismemberment, masturbation, schoolgirls in love with each other and so on. It also has the weird, punk kind of energy many of his movies have. But this is a fairly gruelling watch that may be too nasty and too long for its own good.
That’s not to say it isn’t a good time—The Forest of Love is an unpredictable beast that’s bursting with originality and boasts wonderful, compelling performances. Seeing a sadistic, perverted conman infiltrate a group of vulnerable people and slowly ratchet up his control and abuse of them does have bizarre moments of glorious black humour in amongst the shocks and grimness. It’s chilling that it’s based on a true story, but it feels way too crazy to be a very accurate portrayal.
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This movie is two and a half hours long and many of its scenes stretch on longer than they should. It does, at times, feel like a repetitive slog. But the originality and excessiveness of it all meant I was always excited to see what would happen next. There’s a really wild vibe to this and if you get fully onboard with it, the length won’t be a problem—if anything, you’ll want it to be longer.
Sono also wobbles on the tightrope walk he attempts with the tone. It gets dangerously close to being too mean-spirited and will cross that line for some viewers as mental abuse escalates to physical abuse and ultimately murder. The multiple scenes of self-harm and suicide are also particularly rough. But if you like your films strange, long and super dark, there’s a good chance The Forest of Love will be a home-run for you, even though it was a bit of a mixed bag for me.