Fantasia International film Festival 2023 – Film Review – Lovely, Dark And Deep (2023)

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Troubled park ranger Lennon has just secured her dream job in the ruggedly beautiful back-country. Shrouded in rumours of obsessive behaviour triggered by a family disappearance, she abuses her isolated station to launch a personal investigation that will warp her mind and change her perspectives forever.

Theresa Sutherland’s directorial debut represents a stylish boost in an increasingly impressive career trajectory. Having penned the atmospheric indie horror flick THE WIND she further honed her craft in the writing rooms of Mike Flanagan’s superb MIDNIGHT MASS.

Her film begins conventionally enough as we are introduced to the characters and the majestic location. It travels at a pleasingly tranquil pace that put me in mind of those soothing solo camping and bushcraft videos that pepper Youtube.

We listen along to National Park disappearance podcasts, soak up the social estrangement, and become privy to the charmingly rustic method rangers use to declare their availability. All to the gorgeously expressive soundscape of Shida Shahabi’s superlative score. However, once the movie punches the WTF button the serenity and gentle spookiness become replaced by a netherworld of surreal horrors and terrifying hallucinatory panic.

Sutherland is a self-confessed horror nut and the obsession is plain to see as she invokes the woozy netherworlds of Insidious, The Shining, and the original Poltergeist. There is a von Trieresque black fawn and a flourish reminiscent of 1978’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. The time loop tom fuckery of Timecrimes and Triangle abounds along with Shyamalan-level rug pulls glaring in the Blair Witch P.O.V torch beams.

Yet, the film’s closest relative lies in the recent mentalist Mexican desert picture The Outwaters. Sure, Lovely, Dark and Deep is a less polarising, technically cleaner, less loaded cousin, but they share the same narrative genetics all the same. For many, the cosmic subtlety and tangible visuals of Sutherland’s film will make for a more gratifying viewing experience.

Borrowing its title from a famous Robert Frost poem this potent horror mystery is much more than an exercise in jump scares and sinister set-pieces. There are fibrous strands of astute world-building binding them together.

The film deals with self-blame and survivors’ guilt, conspiracy theory rabbit holes that lead to the false flags of our own reality, and the folk-tinged power of the forest with equal aplomb.

Sutherland states that much of the inspiration for this disturbing woodland mystery comes from her own childhood camping trips. Specifically, how safe and snug she felt as a child cocooned in a tent only to realise as an adult that it was just a flimsy paper-thin canopy between her and the dangers outside.

It is in the exploration of this concept that Lovely, Dark and Deep shines brightest both literally and existentially. We witness a goosebump-inducing tent encounter that hammers the point home, but wider aspects of the story embrace the idea of delusive security until it bleeds into the mind fabric of our beleaguered protagonist.

There are no bad performances in the film but some of them lean toward the emotionally static. The pragmatic script and laid-back dialogue may be contributory factors but to be honest it’s a mostly visual and aural spectacle that unfolds in this nasty national park anyway.

Of course, Georgina Campbell is as excellent as you would expect giving Ranger Lennon just the right dose of neurotic vulnerability to temper her compulsion-driven bravery. With her turns in instant cult favourite Barbarian, Bird Box Barcelona, and the upcoming Ishana Shyamalan debut The Watchers Campbell is a welcome talent that appears to have made genre cinema her home.

Lovely, Dark and Deep displays a confident grasp of the elements required to fashion a creepy genre picture even if the central premise does creak under the pressures of logical analysis. That being said, it’s a film that openly invites personal interpretation and multiple readings so at least it has the guts to own its audacious narrative choices.

Sutherland‘s debut does indeed look lovely, goes to some pretty dark places, and gets deep under the viewer’s skin. In that sense, it manages to live up to its ambitions title.



Mystery, Horror | Portugal, 2022 | 97 mins | Fantasia 2023 | XYZ Films | Dir. Teresa Sutherland | With: Georgina Campbell, Nick Blood, Wai Ching Ho, Edgar Morais