With shots of sheep’s heads, half-eaten babies and a gnawed-through guard, The Forest is not for the faint-hearted. But it is for those who like their cinema taut, tight and occasionally terrifying. Radha (Sen) and Pritam (Vikal) rent a forest bungalow to untangle their troubled marriage. If the socialite couple was counting on privacy, they can forget it as the forest’s top-cop Abhishek (a refreshingly good Jaafri), Radha’s ex-lover, clearly carries a torch for her. Drawling lines like “Centuries of instinct right here – in your balls,” at the city-slickers, Abhishek and son Arjun (Zaidi) attach themselves to the tense couple and some stagey scenes follow, Pritam staring at Radha who’s staring at a wandering shaman, at herself in a beguiling towel, at Abhishek and mostly at Arjun. A conventional film might have you pondering caramel versus salt popcorn by now – but The Forest’s relationships are shaken by the jungle all around, pushing down on its characters, breaking the love triangle open to a man-eating leopard that hunts, chases, devours the forest guard (Shukla) and enters the house.
Growing heavier with the rustle of leaves, the soft tread of something dangerous just behind you, blood reddening a stream, The Forest has gorgeous jungle imagery captured by wildlife filmmakers and BAFTA winner Rajesh and Naresh Bedi. Some sequences are stunning – clouds like clotted cream glide silkily over the moon, a leopard flashes by for a second in a beer bottle, man and beast face each other upon a tree. As the four battle their own selves – with Pritam on a futile shikaar, Radha and Abhishek have sizzling sex that Arjun walks in on – and the leopard, the tension builds. Directed by Ashvin Kumar – whose short film Little Terrorist was nominated for an Oscar in 2005 – The Forest features excellent sound design, silences resounding with unknown dangers, music silken but unobtrusive. The acting picks up and a final reconciliation’s moving – even with that leopard scratching at a door just behind. Framing what happens when poaching turns beasts into man-eaters, The Forest is a warning that should be watched.
Pritam and Radha head to the jungle to heal their broken marriage – but they meet Radha’s ex, Abhishek. And a man-eating leopard.