Part of me has always wondered if certain movies would have been more enjoyable if they were made in black and white. I know, you’re about to say the next word that comes out of my mouth is going to be “aesthetic.” I’m not going to argue the precious quality black and white has had on film; it makes movies like “Frances Ha” and “The Lighthouse” absolutely purposeful in their direction and tone to me. I wouldn’t want those movies done in any other way.
“The Forest of the Lost Souls” is, by all intents and purposes, a movie divided into two halves, not just cut in tone, but in genre, as well. This Portuguese drama-slasher (it’s often acclaimed as a slasher-drama, but for the sake of plot, it functions as a drama first, then a slasher) first features two strangers, a morose old man (Jorge Mota) and a young woman (Lilia Lopes), who happen to cross paths in the Forest of the Lost Souls, a place where many people go to commit suicide. The first half of the film is a back-and-forth conversation learning who and why these two characters want to commit suicide, and their subsequent philosophies on life and death. The old man has lost all appeal toward life because of his daughter’s recent suicide, and the young woman finds fascination and joy in all things related to death. After the woman discovers that the old man is the father of the daughter she murdered, she in turn kills him at the same spot where his daughter supposedly died.
The second portion of “The Forest of the Lost Souls” is where the explicitness of its horror moniker comes into play. The young woman then stalks the remaining family members of the old man, and kills them one by one. At this point, I was having difficulty in what I was supposed to be taking away from the previous character development the movie had just spent so much time with. For a film with a brisk 71 minute runtime, the climax feels excessively underwhelming, particularly because I was so invested in the philosophical debate between the two leads; I almost wanted the whole movie to just be Mota and Lopes exploring the forest.
Somewhere in the mix, the movie forgot about itself, and splits in two. As its final minutes stroll by, the young woman gets away successfully (with practically no struggle from her victims), and we see her visit the music festival she alluded to attending in her dialogue with the old man. She returns to the Forest of the Lost Souls, and perhaps waits to kill again.
Unlike another Portuguese slasher-drama, “The Eyes of My Mother,” which fully evokes the dramatic components of its violence, “The Forest of the Lost Souls” ultimately fails in its loss of direction in its second act. If it didn’t have to be a horror movie, I would have found its aesthetic just as darkly provocative, black and white and all.