The Forest of Lost Souls comes to us from Portuguese filmmaker José Pedro Lopes. This psychological drama-come-horror film follows the evens of two people who meet up in a forest. Said forest, a creation of fiction, is a popular place for suicide – this happens to be why these two are here. Or is it? As they talk and explore the forest, searching for the souls hidden within it turns out both have a story to tell. And one is nowhere near as innocent as they first seem.
This is a slow-burning story, making use of character and atmosphere to play on the audience’s perceptions. The film is shot in black-and-white, which certainly helps set the films tone. The lack of colour gives us an unnatural feeling towards the characters and makes us quick to distrust them both. The long takes and mostly sparse editing, with a focus on cuts moving us from one location to the next – messing with any concept of the passage of time. It all makes for a viewing that’s uncomfortable in the right way.
It does feel unfortunate that this good atmosphere was put to use on a film that feels overall very disjointed. What is advertised as the film’s plot, and what is the most intriguing part of the film, is over with sooner than you’d believe. As soon as our characters reach a resolution, the film becomes less of an atmospheric drama with a very intriguing premise. It instead becomes a more generic horror film – at times it even resembles a slasher flick. This does work sometimes – notable examples are Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Jonathan Damme’s The Silence of the Lambs, two drama-thrillers that became serial killer horror films at the end. Here though, it sadly comes off as two very separate stories that clash very violently.
We seem to get a good set-up, conflict and resolution – and then the film carries on for another 40 minutes. This makes me think that The Forest of Lost Souls would have worked better as a short film. It is a shame, as the cinematography and acting was good, and Lopes clearly has talent behind the camera. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made something spectacular in the future. But the story was lost on me, and not too soon after so were the characters. I’ll admit to having been confused by characters and their motivations in this film. I watched the film, waiting for a big reveal as to the motive behind the film’s more antagonistic character, but it didn’t really arrive for me.
The Forest of Lost Souls is an interesting story and concepts, that is beautifully filmed – but is sadly very muddled. The feeling of uncertainty is something that is worn on the sleeves, which is executed well. But sadly, when the film get’s confusing it really feels hard to get invested in. It’s a good show of talent from those in front of and behind the camera, and I do hope to see more – and better – from them. It’s a shame about the story, but in terms of execution it’s at least an interesting viewing. If you like slow-burning thrillers in the vein of Psycho and, in a way, The Babadook, then it’s worth at least one viewing.
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