Aokigahara, or The Sea of Trees, is a popular Japanese location for tourists, field trips, and suicide. After a staggering amount of reported suicides, and becoming internationally known as “The Suicide Forest”, Japan has gone to great lengths to step in and prevent these tragedies. Signs along trails urge people to think of their loved ones and families, and have provided contact information for suicide prevention hotlines. The Forest of Lost Souls has no such thing. Portugal’s number one spot to take one’s life strays far from preventing these incidents. Instead, you’re more likely to find a stranger, there to take their own life, assist you in your own suicide first.
Set in Portugal, this black and white foreign thriller takes us through the gray areas of suicide. Inside The Forest of the Lost Souls, we meet two drastically opposing souls at different points on the path to their life-ending journey. From start to finish, nothing is as it seems, even if you think you understand. Told through English subtitles, this movie gives you everything in the way that it holds back the reality until the very last second. This isn’t for the sake of drama, you quite literally will be thrown information in the last 30 seconds that will make you rethink everything you’ve seen.
As the movie starts, we are shown a young girl getting her picture taken before making her way through the forest before drowning in the lake. This introduces us to the place where one goes to commit suicide, and where Carolina (Daniela Love) eventually meets Ricardo (Jorge Mota). Carolina has given thought and research into her suicide, in what appears to be premeditated, because her words and actions just don’t scream “I’m not so sure about killing myself now that I’m about to do it.” Ricardo has given little thought and consideration into his suicide, but he has the sureness of his decision to see it through immediately, something Carolina didn’t.
As the two walk together through the trees, following paths marked with “suicide” written in the dirt, we learn that Carolina comes here often, but this time she is certain about killing herself. She has an alibi for the next two days, so this is her window of opportunity. Ricardo tries to convince her to wait at least a year, but this falls on deaf ears after he requests her assistance in his suicide in the same breath he tells her life can get better.
From this moment on, everyone is flipped on their heads. The entire pace and feeling of the movie shifts, leaving you to reconsider anything this movie has shown you.
Rude, brash, and unforgiving, Carolina judges the old man on his method of killing himself (a knife), along with the fact that he didn’t write a suicide note to leave behind. Ricardo, disturbed by both the girl’s young age and knowledge about committing suicide, tells Carolina she reminds him of his daughter with her arrogant attitude. He adds on that he came to this very place to escape this annoyance so he can kill himself in peace.
Ricardo’s family is forced to deal with suicide and death in more ways than one. Pictures in his car and bag show us that he has a wife, Joana (Ligia Roque), and two daughters, Irene (Lilia Lopes), and Filipa (Mafalda Banquart). We are eventually introduced to the boyfriend of Filipa, Tiago. Though he is aware of the tragedy within the family, and seems to take advantage of Filipa’s sadness, she is in charge of their interactions. This gives us a glimpse of the loved ones left behind, as each family member deals with the tragedy in their own way.
Surrounding an issue that has nothing but gray areas, The Forest of the Lost Souls is delivered in black and white. This does nothing to subdue the disturbing events that take place, including the opening credits of eerie and haunting trees made out of newspaper: a literal forest of its own lost souls. Slow and deliberate, nothing moves too fast, though some scenes could certainly use a fast-forward so you don’t lose anyone’s attention. The creepiness and uneasiness about where the story is suddenly headed is just enough to keep viewers watching.
Filled with noises that can only come from somewhere inside a place you wouldn’t dare go alone, you won’t be able to shake the uneasiness you’ll feel when you hear birds, or leaves in the wind, for some time after watching this movie. You may also avoid trees with any amount of density to them. And just as you begin to subconsciously react to the background music that is filled with hysteria, we get a song or two with words, voices, an upbeat rhythm, and energy before the hysteria once again takes over.
Performed by Hann Cassady
Performed by No Vacation
Performed by CBMC
The Forest of the Lost Souls falls heavily under the thriller category with its misleading actions that lead to unknown outcomes long after you think you’ve got it all figured out.