The most riveting horror stories start with something that is true and yet so mysterious that no one seems to have answers about why it is happening. For instance, did you know that an unusually high number of people go missing in national parks and no one seems to know how or why? Where do they go? Why can’t anyone seem to find them? This is where writer/director Teresa Sutherland comes in with her new film ‘Lovely, Dark, and Deep’.
Lennon, played by the incredibly talented Georgina Campbell (‘Barbarian’), has landed her dream job as a back-country park ranger in Avores National Park. She will be occupying an isolated outpost for the entire summer, which will provide her with ample time to work on her personal side project: finding out what happened to her sister who went missing in this park when they were children. As the film kicks off, before we meet Lennon, we see the ranger who previously manned her post leaving a note that says “I owe this land a body” and walking off into the forest. It is clear that something very sinister is going on in the area described as a place “where it still gets dark.” In the midst of her search Lennon encounters a panicked camper who’s companion has gone missing and in the search for this camper she starts to understand more about what is going on, and it is, indeed, very dark!
While this is largely a one woman show for Campbell she is joined by fellow back-country ranger Jackson played by Nick Blood (‘The Offering’) and head ranger Zhang (Wai Ching Ho, ‘Hustlers’). The isolation, though, is key to the horror. We are unsure if Lennon is completely losing her grip due to grief and guilt, or if there really is something going on out in the woods. The deeper we get into the film the more we start to see terrifying things happening in the background, things that may or may not be really happening. Being lost in the woods would be scary enough, but adding in these more sinister elements takes this film from survival thriller to full on horror. More than once someone asks “are you real?” and that is exactly what the viewer is wondering as well. Campbell does a great job quietly inhabiting this character while leaving the audience a trail of breadcrumbs that slowly hint at her motivations and the truths she is learning.
This is a first feature for Sutherland as a director but her second as a writer. In her first feature script for ‘The Wind,’ which was about pioneer women on the plains being driven mad by the sound of the wind constantly blowing, we see her begin to play in the space where a perfectly stable mind begins to crack and becomes unable to distinguish reality from imagination. In ‘Lovely, Dark, and Deep’ she is exploring this concept in modern times with a different sort of isolation against a more lush landscape. Sutherland has absolutely shown that she is as capable a director as she is a writer and I hope we get to see more from her in both arenas, especially in her use of strong female leads and perspectives.
‘Lovely, Dark, and Deep’ is hauntingly beautiful and genuinely terrifying. It is a film that will sit in the back of your mind until your next camping trip where you’ll likely think twice before going too deep into the woods.
‘Lovely, Dark, and Deep’ made its World Premier at Fantasia Fest.
Fantasia 2023 Review: ‘Lovely, Dark, and Deep’ Goes to the Places Where It Still Gets Dark