❉ This black and white Portuguese horror is a game of two halves, Iain MacLeod finds.
Suicide and forests go together like ice cream and chocolate sauce or, if you prefer, hosepipes and car exhausts. Cinematically the pairing has been shown at least twice in the imaginatively titled Natalie Dormer starrer The Forest and Gus Van Sant’s flop The Sea of Trees in which Matthew McConaughey wandered round a forest for two hours with suicidal thoughts. Both films featured Aokigahara, the infamous suicide forest located near Mount Fuji that is said to be home to hundreds of ghosts.
I mention the forest here as it is a definite visual influence on The Forest of the Lost Souls, the directorial debut from José Pedro Lopes. This black and white Portuguese horror takes place in a forest where two strangers, a father and a teenage girl, meet. At first this meeting of minds is one of inconvenience with its geographical influence raising its head, “Who commits suicide with a knife? Are you fucking Japanese?”
Carolina played by Daniela Love, and the older man Ricardo, Jorge Mota, soon develop a strange relationship in which she is able to dispense advice and wisdom on how to commit suicide properly, due to her own self-proclaimed indecisiveness when it comes to the actual deed.
These early stages of the film prove engaging enough with spiky dialogue showing the generational gaps attitudes to death and how it affects those left behind. The film then decides to embrace genre with both hands however and leaves all semblance of character building and examination of death behind to become a full on low budget slasher movie with pretensions above its station that it barely manages to grasp with successfully.
The black and white photography and score in the early stages are arresting and carry a hauntology vibe but Lopes can find no way to carry these interesting ideas and visuals into the next section of the film. Clichés such as the killer popping up in the distant background accompanied by a brief and loud musical sting pop up repeatedly proving that the director only has a surface level understanding of the genre. The killer’s motive/lack of motive is never really given any examination either resulting in a film that while often nice to look at has nothing really to look at or linger over beneath its shiny black and white exterior.
It is when the film abandons the genre that it becomes interesting again. The closing section of the film abandons dialogue and instead becomes a detached look of a certain generational attitude and character once more. The full-on horror/suspense mid-section only has the effect of distorting what could have been an effective short film stretched out to a much less interesting full length one. Although at seventy minutes it can barely be counted as a full-length feature.
It is an odd film that has as much to recommend as it has not to, sometimes it accomplishes this odd dichotomy in a single scene; particularly in its final shot which starts off as visually interesting then closes out with a cliched, too obvious sting which only enforces the director’s surface level fondness for the clichés of the genre. Maybe for his next directorial outing Lopes will commit to character more than genre. When it happens here it is only then that the film really, and literally thanks to its monochrome photography, manages to shine.
❉ The Forest of the Lost Souls will open theatrically August 3 in L.A and other cities, distributed by Wild Eye Releasing.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.