Whatever variety of trees grow in Japan's infamous Aokigahara — otherwise known as the Suicide Forest — American director Gus Van Sant's lethally tedious new film makes this much clear: they're dangerously full of sap.
Van Sant has long exhibited a curiously split directorial personality, producing one dripping barrel of schmaltz like 'Restless' for every 'Elephant'-style study in austere severity. Still, he may never have made a film quite as banal as this life-after-near-death drama, which resembles one of Japanese auteur Naomi Kawase's spiritualist tone poems brutally hijacked in the editing suite by M Night Shyamalan. For leading man Matthew McConaughey, it's an inexplicable passion project that, if the length and soggy-eyed earnestness of his multiple monologues are anything to go by, he presumably imagined would reap him further Oscar glory.
Things get off to a bad start from the very beginning, when precious seconds of screen time are spent on McConaughey's doleful science professor checking in at the airport. The flight attendant can't find his booking! Her manager is called! Wait, there it is! It was a technical error! If this much story padding is required at the outset, things hardly tighten up when McConaughey arrives at Aokigahara, intent on killing himself for reasons that are gruellingly revealed in sporadic flashbacks to his broken marriage to mopey, tumour-afflicted Naomi Watts.
Were the story being told in linear order, some tension would arise from the question of which of these miserable spouses would drive the other to the fatal forest first. As it is, the only enigma in this drably shot film concerns the origins of Ken Watanabe's enigmatic suicidal businessman, who becomes McConaughey's life-affirming guide through the foliage. When the answer comes, you may not know whether to laugh or cry — not least because you'll likely have drifted off into a sea of z's long before.