Lovely, Dark and Deep - Fantasia World Premiere Review
Director: Teresa Sutherland
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Nick Blood, Wai Ching Ho, Maria de Sá
Written by: Teresa Sutherland
Produced by: Josh C. Waller
Cinematography by: Rui Poças
Original Score by: Shida Shahabi
A National Park Ranger on her first posting to the back country uses her time to search for clues about what really happened to her missing younger sister. She soon discovers that part of the job is appeasing the entity that took her.
Deeply unsettling and atmospheric, Teresa Sutherland's debut feature 'Lovely, Dark and Deep' is a slow moving psychological horror film that demands your full attention. Full of gorgeous scenic landscape shots of it's forest location and led by another fantastic turn from Georgina Campbell (Barbarian) 'Lovely, Dark and Deep' might require multiple viewings but will absolutely have you questioning your decision the next time you fancy going for a quiet stroll through an isolated woodland retreat.
Georgina Campbell plays Lennon, a newly appointed back country park ranger who has been granted a long sought after position in an secluded outpost. It's a job she has wanted since she was a child but before she takes up her new position we get a tease that this particularly area of the wilderness is perhaps not the most desirable after all. The woods have been rife with strange and unexplainable disappearances over the years, including kids and park rangers too, one of which is the very ranger that Lennon is replacing. After her initiation process in which she is welcomed by fellow rangers Jackson and Zhang, Lennon makes her way to her outpost and settles in.
"Are you real?"
What happens for the next 50 minutes or so can only be described as a gradual manifestation of a fever dream, creeping slowly up on both Lennon and us. Her tragic past, in which the other ranger's have heard rumours of, begins to resurface and we realise that her appointment out here hasn't just been because of her desire to join the elite National Park Service. As ranger Zhang mentions during the initiation meeting "90 days in the back country can make a person awfully forgetful" and we get a shot of ranger Varney's missing poster on the wall. It's a subtle hint at what's to come, although we aren't quite aware of it right now.
Overhead drone shots can be overused in genre films, particularly horror, but Sutherland uses them to great effect here to make the woods seem expansive, otherworldly and more importantly, to give them a life of their own. As the film progresses the woods (filmed on location in Portugal and beautifully shot by Rui Poças) almost becomes a character itself, becoming more and more elaborately entwined in Lennon's reality, or lack there of. Lennon becomes slowly disconnected from reality and a series of unreliable visions makes her question what exactly is real? Is she real?
She attempts to unravel her mysterious past and through intermittent flashbacks we become aware of what that past actually is. But are they flashbacks for our benefit or are they manifestations that the woods are conjuring for Lennon herself? This is where the film excels. Sutherland creates a powerful sense of dread as Lennon wanders deeper into the woods and deeper into a cosmic Bermuda Triangle like scenario.
The film could easily have unravelled very differently had Georgina Campbell not been such a powerhouse in leading the way. She has a fantastic screen presence and the subtlety in which she expresses her anxieties and fears and confusion and pain is exceptional.
You'll have to be patient with this one but 'Lovely, Dark and Deep' manages to deliver a creepy, cerebral horror film steeped in the very real and unusual reality of missing persons in National Parks, that doesn't have to rely on excessive jump scares or blood and gore (it's there but very minimal). We're already excited to see what Teresa Sutherland's next project is.
- Gavin Logan
'Lovely, Dark and Deep' received it's World Premiere at Fantasia '23 on July 23rd