I certainly felt lost after watching The Forest of the Lost Souls, but I am not sure that was a good thing. A film of two halves, I became lost as it transitioned from a dark, ethereal fairytale (the Brothers Grimm kind) to a more conventional – and far less effective – slasher flick. Unfortunately, the film’s chilling premise is squandered by underdeveloped characters, a tedious middle act, and confusing finale.
Lost Souls opens with a young woman pondering the hardships of life and the supposed peace suicide can bring while repeating thought-provoking philosophical quotes regarding suicide. This opening hooked me: the haunting score, black and white cinematography, and subtle facial cues displayed by this disenchanted lady (played by the under-utilised Lília Lopes) convinced me she was not truly happy. Yet what I loved most was that it made me think, with the jarring closing shot leaving a lasting impression. We have seen the rise of smarter horror films such as Get Out and It Follows, and I initially thought Lost Souls deserving of equal merit.
Following this, we are introduced to two new personalities: the gruff Ricardo and mysterious Carolina, both portrayed excellently by Jorge Mota and Daniela Love. These characters have great repartee, with an undercurrent of warmth beneath their fierce debate regarding suicide. What I especially enjoyed was these two characters, separated by age and background but united in their quest for peace, journeying through the woods together. I have always been a fan of this genre of horror, with the pervasive feeling of dread Lost Souls conjured – similar to the highly praised Silent Hill series – commanding my attention.
It was therefore an extreme disappointment that this chilling atmosphere gave way to a frustrating middle act. At the end of Carolina and Ricardo’s journey, two revelations occur. Unfortunately, the first of these I felt was not particularly shocking, due to the weighted remarks previously made by Ricardo. However, while I did not foresee the latter it soon works to the film’s detriment, leading to a sadistic game of cat and mouse that fails to generate any serious scares. Although the direction echoes that of similar horror hits such as The Strangers, the execution is far less effective.
At the same time, director José Pedro Lopes attempts to add emotional depth to proceedings. Highlights include quiet shots of Filipa (Mafalda Banquart) gazing upon a candlelit memorial shrine to her deceased sister, a constant reminder of the hole left in her life, and a heated discussion between Filipa and her mother Joana (Ligia Roque) as they touch upon the toll this has taken on their family. Despite the potential for these scenes to provide some emotional punches, the lacklustre script and underdeveloped characters robbed the segment of any bite, instead feeling like a retread of familiar thematic beats.
In fact, it is this poor character treatment that prevents Lost Souls’ message – the significant collateral damage suicide can wreak – from being realised. Granted, Lost Souls is a short film at only 71 minutes, but I have witnessed better characterisation within other films with a similar runtime. While Carolina is initially an interesting foil to Ricardo, her transformation from enigmatic to deranged is so sudden that I found it hard to believe. Filipa and Joana are given little depth so that I did not feel any emotional pangs when they ruminated on the passing of Filipa’s sister. If anything, the fate of Filipa’s boyfriend Tiago (portrayed by Tiago Jácome) seemed only an afterthought, eliciting an unintended laugh from me.
Ultimately, the film’s finale left me perplexed at the message Pedro Lopes wanted to convey. Carolina’s behaviour in the closing minutes did not reveal the motive behind her actions. Yet perhaps this was Pedro Lopes’ intention, leaving viewers to decide whether Carolina is simply a disturbed young woman, or a human embodiment of the forest’s darkness.
I wanted to love The Forest of the Lost Souls. From its intriguing opening, beautiful cinematography, haunting score, to its philosophical musings, and – initially – strong character development, I felt unnerved yet fascinated, drawn deep into the forest. Yet the picture’s sudden shift to a clumsily executed conventional slasher-thriller dashed my hopes. While the ending rounds back to its philosophical ideas, they are largely ignored in the film’s second half. While I did ponder these ethical dilemmas, because of the film’s disappointing execution, they were soon sadly forgotten.
Review screener provided
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Despite great cinematography and an ethereal score, underdeveloped characters and a mediocre script turn this thought-provoking examination of suicide into a tedious slasher flick.
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