The Forest of Lost Souls

A Floresta das Almas Perdidas -- The Forest of Lost Souls for those of us who don't speak Portuguese -- is aptly named. Most who go there go to commit suicide among the trees or perhaps at the large glacial lake inside the forest. And yes, this particular wood is inspired by Japan's infamous Aokigahara forest where so many go to die. Like its inspiration, it's a beautiful woods despite the sadness of it, and you can almost understand why Ricardo (Jorge Mota) has chosen it as a place to die.

He isn't alone, though; even in the vastness of the woods he's managed to run into someone else, a teenager called Carolina (Daniela Love). She reminds him of his own teenage daughter, which is to say rude and argumentative, but he can't deny that she's much more prepared than he is. This is something of a hobby of hers, you see -- she wants to kill herself, she explains, but she's naturally indecisive and keeps changing her mind, hence her continued existence.

But Carolina knows all the statistics on suicide, even if Ricardo is occasionally convinced she's making them up as she goes along, and she's really thought about the process as well. She also pulls no punches in cross-examining Ricardo about his wife and daughter (Lígia Roque and Lília Lopes, respectively) and also why he wants to die. Since she has no qualms about calling him selfish as well as unprepared, she may not be the best person to be talking to anyone suicidal. Still, given the long hours she apparently spends in the forest, she's learned quite a lot and is glad to put her knowledge to use.

About this point, the plot takes a sharp left turn and far be it from me to spoil any surprises. It becomes a different movie in many ways, but writer-director José Pedro Lopes makes it work and the transition, while startling, shakes things up while keeping much of the same atmosphere. and atmospheric is the word for this film -- there's a claustrophobic feeling even in the wide open spaces that stays with you long after the movie ends.

It's a solid four out of five. The understated acting fits perfectly, and the interaction among the characters is quiet and natural. The plot even deals well with modern technology and the ease with which we can stalk people -- I mean, keep in touch -- these days. Both thoughtful and macabre, it makes for an excellent psychological horror, demonstrating that you can be happy and content nearly anywhere, if you just approach it the right way.

Carolina and Ricardo on the shores of the glacial lake.


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