People come to The Forest of the Lost Souls (A Floresta das Almas Perdidas) to die. Death awaits them there and cheerfully obliges. This dense and remote forest between Portugal and Spain is Portugal’s most popular place for suicide, where, on a summer morning, two strangers meet in the woods. Ricardo (Jorge Mota) and Carolina (Daniela Love) meet seemingly by chance, both intent on ending their own lives.
After the random encounter they decide to briefly postpone killing themselves in order to explore the forest and also to continue talking to one another, as each is intrigued by the other. However, as they go further into the forest it becomes clear that all is not as it appears to be.
Ricardo is a middle-aged man in the throes of depression and sorrow after his eldest daughter, Irene, killed herself in this same forest. Carolina is a beautiful young woman who is steeped in the literature and romance of sadness, seeming to have no complaints about her life beyond existential ennui. She quotes Van Gogh and Nick Hornby on suicide. She hangs on Van Gogh’s last words, “La tristesse durera toujours” (the sadness will last forever). She tells Ricardo she has planned her suicide around a music festival and that she’s slipped away from the festival so no one will question her absence for several days. By then it will be too late.
“…as they go further into the forest it becomes clear that all is not as it appears to be.“
Together the two wander through natural beauty, talking about their lives and their wish to die. They occasional find the bodies of other suicides. Carolina snaps pics of them and has no compunction about robbing them of cigarettes and personal belongings.
Ricardo is horrified to learn that Carolina has been here before, that she may be a goth poseur, a tourist in the forest. She comes across as a careless, disaffected youth, a manic-depressive pixie dream girl. Regardless of her alleged previous indecision, this time she has truly come here seeking death. Ricardo feels fatherly concern for her, despite, or perhaps because of, his own failings as a father. He decides to stay his own death for a time in order to talk her down. He’s convinced, and tries to persuade her, that at her age she has much to live for. The unsuspecting and unlikely pair share their miseries until events take a surprising and even darker turn.
Horror in a suicide forest may seem redundant, but The Forest of the Lost Souls is engaging and compelling to watch, a dark outing that has a smile playing at the corner of its mouth. Heavy sorrow on the outside, gleefully snarky evil in the middle. There’s something in the forest that has a unique and brilliantly sinister taste for death.
In his stellar directing debut José Pedro Lopes has painted beautiful textures in black and white instead of using it as a pretentious affectation, focusing the menacing tone of the film perfectly. Color in this context would render the tale distractingly ordinary.
While the runtime is a bit short at just a little over an hour, it works well. There’s no wasted motion or extraneous dialog. The film is exactly what it should be, lean and precise. This is a masterful rendering in shades of grey of an exciting new take on horror.
The Forest of the Lost Souls (2018). Written and directed by José Pedro Lopes. Starring Daniela Love, Jorge Mota, Mafalda Banquart.
8 out of 10