After quietly building up word of mouth online and at various European festivals in early 2017, the debut feature of Portuguese director, producer and writer Jose Pedro Lopes was given its UK premiere at the inaugural Triple Six Horror Festival. A monochrome nightmare about a Portuguese suicide forest and its depressed inhabitants, Lopes’ film walks a very thin line between immense despair and black comedy. It also manages to be one of the most interesting and challenging horror films since Ducournau’s Raw.
The Forest of the Lost Souls runs a very sprightly 71 minutes and follows the meeting of two strangers in a fictional rural suicide spot. Ricardo (Jorge Mota) feels he has let his family down immensely and his despair brings him into the forest with a large hunting knife and a wish to disappear. Carolina (Daniela Love) has a more specific plan, having left her friends at a music festival, she plans to leave the world by downing a bottle of poison. Although initially irked by the intrusion on each other’s most private of moments, a parent and child bond develops as discussion of pain, loss, desperation, mortality and potential redemption reveals what makes these two disparate individuals tick.
Undoubtedly based on the infamous Aokigahara forest in Japan (also the inspiration for last year’s The Forest), the film never shies away from the literal and emotional isolation the location provides. Francisco Lobo’s monochrome cinematography paints an ethereal and beautiful landscape of lakesides, mountain peaks and dense forestry which juxtaposes with the characters’ despair and their discovery of those who have gone before them. A stop motion titles sequence, reminiscent of Hardy’s The Hallow, and set against an excellent electronic score by Emanuel Gracio introduces Lopes’ intentions very early on. However, to discuss the second half of the film would do potential viewers a serious disservice although it is safe to assume that not all is as it appears between the two leads.
The Forest of the Lost Souls is a very assured debut feature with an ending presenting large questions about mortality, the moral choice of suicide and specifically the repercussions for those left behind. Similar to the recent Netflix series 13 Reasons Why it leaves the viewer a little shell shocked and it is sure to generate awkward but very necessary discussion if given a wider release. Highly recommended.