The Forest of Love ★★★★

Words and phrases like "disturbing", "horrifying", "insane" and "not for the faint of heart" preceded my initial viewing of this film. While those descriptions are undeniably true, if you're a Sion Sono veteran then some of the imagery on display you have undoubtedly seen before at least to some degree. Having said that, there were more than a few moments that genuinely shocked even somebody used to the auteur's typical content.

The basic plot outline is that of a conman manipulating his way into a group of young people's lives as they desperately try to shoot their dream-movie. A fictional story within the basis of the real-life murders, torture and extortion committed by convicted serial killer Futoshi Matsunaga in Kyushu, Japan from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

There are rather obvious parallels to Sono's previous ventures namely 'Love Exposure, 'Cold Fish', 'Suicide Club' and 'Why Don't You Play in Hell?' but what 'The Forest of Love' does not feel is unoriginal. The movie encompasses many of the traits that have made Sion Sono so subversive: school girls, murder, suicide, aspiring filmmakers and it needs to be said, is particularly graphic with all of it. As is expected from Sono, the movie presents a whole host of ideas from multiple character perspectives and is chronologically challenging. It isn't a short movie, clocking in at 2 hours and 31 minutes and at times does feel like it's starting to drag but at the same time never feels unnecessary and is certainly never boring.

Sono never makes any apologies for realising his true artistic vision with no intention of giving in to any big studio and their suggestions. We also need to give it to Netlifx for producing so many niche and independent movies recently which gives a much welcome variety to the platform's content and the great reach that Netflix has means that the general movie-watching public can widen their horizons and discover gems like this that they otherwise may have never come across (as long as they can stomach it).

Although with every Sono trait that 'The Forest of Love' has, it is also distinctive as its own entity, and an experience that would've fallen apart in the hands of anybody else. Beneath the blood-splattered surface is as is typical of Sono; a series of rather unsubtle messages of manipulation and authority.

If this is your first Sion Sono movie then his unique mix of horror, gore, crime, comedy and nobody-talks-like-that dialogue may catch you by surprise but for long-time fans of Sono, it's a worthy addition to the auteur's filmography and one that is so undoubtedly Sion Sono that you may even wish the runtime was longer.