The Sea of Trees (2015) Review


Director(s): Gus Van Sant
Chris Sparling
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts

Plot: Upon arriving in Japan’s “Suicide Forest”, Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles into Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe) as the two eventually find themselves lost in the forest.

Review: There is a generally accepted of spectrum of quality that films usually fall into; excellent, good, average, bad, and so bad that it becomes good. And then there’s the pocket universe wedged between the latter two, where certain films suffering from a myriad of issues fall into. Such an occurrence is rare, but the signs are easily noticeable. The film has to have a considerable amount of talent backing its production, and it has to have an interesting premise, but the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back has to be that somewhere along the way, the film just goes to absolute shit. This year alone has shown a fair number of these films – Batman v Superman, Warcraft, and Suicide Squad – but for the first time in 2016 – or 2015, if going by the Cannes debut –, the latest to fall into this category is an indie film.

Directed by Gus Van Sant of Good Will Hunting (1997), with acting heavyweights Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe and Naomi Watts, The Sea of Trees is a truly bizarre, aimless film. Beginning with McConaughey’s Arthur Brennan arriving in Japan and traveling to Aokigahara, the infamous “Suicide Forest”, to kill himself, and the American’s eventual meeting with Watanabe’s Takumi Nakamura, a Japanese man attempting suicide as well, the film then progressively goes off the rails, as it interjects the dullard present day scenes of the duo walking and stumbling through the forest after getting lost, to the even worse flashbacks of Brennan’s domestic struggles with his wife, Joan (Naomi Watts).

From the moment Brennan goofily falls off a cliff thirty minutes into the film, to him looking up “a perfect place to die” through Google, The Sea of Trees plays its buffoonery with a straight-face, as the film telegraphs its blatant upcoming plot twists as though it’s an M. Night Shyamalan film. On that note, if Gus Van Sant’s name was removed from the film to be replaced with Shyamalan’s, not many would bat an eye. The film, vapid in its thematic pretension, is truly a terrible film, and it makes one wonder why A24, an indie film company known for picking up indie hits, chose to buy the film’s distribution rights. Was it some kind of “Haha, were you expecting this to be as good the other films we distributed this year such as The Witch, Green Room, and The Lobster?!” joke?

Rating: D