In ‘The Forest of Lost Souls’, it’s easy to lose your way

A powerful exploration of how we comprehend suicide

This review is from our continuing coverage of Sydney Film Festival over the next month. Check out the rest of the content here

Content warning: this article discusses suicide.

“Sadness will last forever.”

The opening line of this Portuguese film (directed by José Pedro Lopes) sets the tone for what quickly becomes a sombre and thought-provoking story, the product of an unconventional hybrid of the coming of age and slasher genres.

The Forest of Lost Souls is a figurative place where people go to take their lives — so you’re not really expecting a cheery or light-hearted film. And yet, as we follow an elderly man (Jorge Mota) into the forest and witness his chance encounter with an intriguing teenage girl (Daniela Love), we are confronted with dialogue that is peculiarly playful for such a solemn context. In a way, it almost normalises the forest — and these humanising interactions are enough for an optimist like me to believe in the tiniest hope that these two might end up being friends, or helping each other, or even saving each other’s lives.

But how wrong I would be.

The film is interesting because it tells you a tale you want to finish, even if at times the crescendo of music leaves you hiding parts of the screen with your hands. The film’s best asset is its musical score — it’ll help you predict what’s about to happen, and it’s also what will scare you the most. For the easily terrified, however, watch this movie without sound and it becomes instantly more confusing than scary. That said, it’s not so much death (or murder, as it turns out) that makes the film frightening — rather, it’s our realisation of how easily we initially accepted the casual depictions and conversations regarding suicide. The implications of this acceptance are chilling — “sadness will last forever”, as the film warns us from the beginning.

Like its thematic counterpart 13 Reasons Why, Lost Souls attempts to discuss a sensitive topic that is (understandably) tough to tackle. There is no one appropriate way to open a dialogue about suicide or mental health issues — explicitly talking about it is definitely one way, and maybe creating a horror film is another. The nonchalant way suicide is treated in the film is nerve-racking, but isn’t a good horror film supposed to reveal what society doesn’t want to become? That being said, the openness in which suicide is discussed isn’t one of those things — and shouldn’t be. It’s what should be the norm in society, even if no other part of the movie should.

This is a horror film you can watch at 2AM and sleep soundly afterwards, but walk your dog at night the next day and still look over your shoulder. And if that’s what you’re into — you can catch The Forest of the Lost Souls on 17 June at Sydney Film Festival.

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