4 out of 5
The final page of The Suicide Forest is exactly why El Torres is one of the masters of modern horror comics. And, yes, all of the stuff inbetween, of course!, but it’s the lasting impression of Torres’ genre entries that help to clarify why what he does tends to work: these aren’t jump scares, or typical “the bogeyman is still alive” moments, but rather some shot or sequence that drags the supernatural into something emotional, and real. This tends to be threaded throughout the works – and very much so in this mini-series – but it’s not until the final pages that you can point to the “payoff” of that approach. After all, so many times the opposite is true in horror: a solid build-up and character work, and a flat ending.
Artist Gabriel Hernandez and Torres work intersecting narratives throughout their four issue together: Tokyo transplant Alan’s bad breakup with the obsessive Masami; Aokigahara forest (‘the suicide forest’) worker Ryoko’s dedication to tradition putting her at odds with the modern-day regulations of body cleanup in the forest. But typical of Torres, we get this in layers: Masami fits the bill as the typical haunting girl type when she commits suicide and begins to make Alan’s life hell, but the relationship is more nuanced than that, and we side with Ryoko as the underdog, battling against those who don’t appreciate the past, but her path to her practices has not been necessarily straightforward. Hernandez’s loose lines and heavy oil-ish colors are perfect for effecting the grit of the story while also capturing character nuance, and the creators parallel our storylines page by page, or intra-page, feeding us flashes of the present day investigation into the deaths of Alan’s friends and the flashbacks that show Masami as the ghostly cause, as well as Masami’s fitful fight to maintain her traditions under the judgmental eyes of coworkers and bosses. As we’re following some typical Japanese horror lines, the temptation would be to indulge, or save up for twists, but Torres forefronts character: we can feel Alan’s distraught, and see Masami’s struggles. This makes the impact of their eventual meeting up in the forest filled with all of the necessary dread and tension, escalated further by Hernandez’s pacing and masterful use of blacks and colors.
As to the 4 out of 5 rating, the extent to which Torres tries to pare down any excess and present all of the pieces up front does make Masami’s side of the story a little hard to suss out at first, in terms of the timing of the events we’re seeing, and the exact relationship she has with her coworker and superiors. But as soon as we’re deep into the first issue and onto the second, the pacing as down, and we’re wrapped up in an affecting ghost tale.
The trade includes covers, and some sketches from Hernandez.