The Forest of the Lost Souls» is a dense and remote forest, Portugal's most popular place for suicide. In a summer morning, two strangers meet within the woods.
José Pedro Lopes
José Pedro Lopes
Daniela Love as Carolina
Jorge Mota as Ricardo
Mafalda Banquart as Filipa
“Sadness will last forever.” Ricardo, (Jorge Mota), is an old man at the end of his rope. Despondent over the recent death of his daughter Irene, (a very brief performance from Lília Lopes), Ricardo travels to the infamous Forest of the Lost Souls to kill himself. Apparently it’s Portugal’s most popular suicide spot. At least, that’s what Ricardo learns from Carolina, (Daniela Love), a mysterious, disturbed young woman he meets in the woods. It must also be the forest of irony. Unbeknownst to Ricardo, his daughter Irene took her life in that very same spot.
The Forest of the Lost Souls, written and directed by José Pedro Lopes, is unabashedly an arthouse film. If that aesthetic annoys you, you might want to skip it. But if there’s a wee bit of the ol’ hipster in you, at least it’s not The Lobster. Most of the enjoyment comes from Jorge Mota’s turn as Ricardo. It’s a precise performance, filled with all the hallmarks of Catholic guilt. When Carolina asks Ricardo why he wants to kill himself, Mota journeys from depression to resolution with one simple expression. “I did everything wrong,” he replies. “I failed my family.”
There is very little dialogue in the film. Very little action, as well. Lopes sets up what he’s going for right from the beginning, in a pre-credit sequence involving Irene’s suicide. There is voice-over narration, name dropping Nietzsche, Vincent van Gogh, and praising the “virtues” of suicide. Childlike, Irene wanders the tranquil landscape, as the morning sun rises. It’s all filmed in French New Wave black-and-white, courtesy of cinematographer Francisco Lobo. Think A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, only without the vampire. Well, there is a monster.
Daniela Love is quite evocative as the brooding Carolina, a Lisbeth Salander type. She never feels quite human in her conversations with old Ricardo, as if she’s some forest fairy, a beguiling mouthpiece for all the dead souls. She balances Mota’s introspection with cynical, Millennial narcissism. Her motives, however, remain frustratingly unclear for the majority of the movie. The actress more than makes up for it in the second half, but I would have preferred a little more meat on the bones of her character. Especially considering the shocking reveal of the movie.
Halfway through, a twist occurs. It manages to be arresting, unexpected, and genuinely clever. Nine times out of ten, horror twists don’t work. They’re frustrating, because they are illogical. In order for the twist to truly be smart, the first part of the story has to be captivating in and of itself. The twist then inverts everything you’ve seen. The fun comes from putting the pieces back together in a different way. That needs to also be captivating. If it still fits the frame, you’ve got a great twist. Do it right, you’ve got Ira Levin’s Deathtrap. Do it wrong, it’s The Hateful Eight.
Unfortunately, the third act is where the cracks start to show in The Forest of the Lost Souls. Lopes gets great momentum with his twist, but then bogs his movie down with padding. At just an hour and ten minutes, (five of which are dedicated to the end credits), the story desperately needed a subplot. Nothing too fancy. Maybe ten extra minutes to develop the late-addition secondary characters, and their relationships. As it is, they’re just horror fodder. There is very little on screen to create any audience sympathy.
The black and white photography is genuinely beautiful. It’s otherworldly play of light and shadow fits the dreamlike nature of the material. Near the end, there is a bizarre, surreal version of stalking that takes place. It’s a near perfect execution of visual tension, with just enough weirdness to send a shiver down your spine. Reverent organ music plays throughout, creating the feeling that you’re tiptoeing through a vast cathedral. It brings a sense of profundity to even the simple moments.
There are some technical negatives. A few of the sound cues are canned, unsourced, and come off as if they were slapped in later in a studio. It’s a minor mixing problem, but it is distracting. It becomes really apparent once the onscreen viscera starts flying. A shame, really. That robs the horrorhound of the “realism” of the actual horror. Our twisted tastes are very specific, after all.
The Forest of the Lost Souls sadly hasn’t received a U.K. or U.S. release date yet. The film has been on the festival circuit since 2015, but a new trailer was recently released. When it eventually sees the light of day, it’s worth your time. The Forest of the Lost Souls is a more philosophical brand of horror. It meditates on grief and loss. It looks at Portugal’s future and ruminates on its dark past. “During fascism, the old men were left to die,” Carolina tells Ricardo forebodingly. “Maybe they’re doing it again, because of the crisis.”