Film Review: Lovely, Dark and Deep

  • Reviews

Teresa Sutherland’s haunting debut movie Lovely, Dark and Deep opens with a quote from the Father of the National Parks, John Muir. It reads, “Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”, which perfectly encapsulates the beautiful, troubling and occasionally obtuse film which it precedes down to a tee.

A woman in a park ranger uniform looks unsettled by something off screen. Still from Lovely, Dark, and Deep.

We follow newly appointed Forest Ranger, Lennon (Georgina Campbell), as she begins her first year of patrolling the seemingly endless bounds of Arvores National Park. Isolated in the wilderness, Lennon’s job is to patrol her grid looking for problems or dangers that have arisen, and to be on the look out for hikers and ramblers who may have lost their way. And Arvores National Park has a reputation for swallowing up careless travellers, with dozens of disappearances reported over the decades, including Lennon’s sister many years before…

Director Sutherland’s debut film is a strong example of powerful visual storytelling which is anchored by a great central performance which just about injects the film with enough forward momentum to cross the finish line. A writer on several projects (most notably Mike Flanagan’s’ Midnight Mass) and a talent who has directed several short films, Sutherland’s film is a bold yet flawed foray into the wilderness.

A male park ranger on the radio looking panicked. Still from Lovely, Dark, and Deep.

Georgina Campbell announced herself to the horror genre with last years spectacular and bonkers Barbarian and has chosen here a film whose tone could not be more wildly different. We spend much of the film’s runtime solely in Lennon’s company, and Campbell is adept at showing us Lennon’s deteriorating mental condition through sheer force of will and physicality. As her periods of isolation increase, the world around Lennon begins to shift and change, dragging her rational mind to the brink of madness.

Sutherland makes the most out of the stunning outdoor world her film is set in; from glorious ariel shots to further illustrate Lennon’s isolation and insignificance to the majesty of nature, to some dizzying and almost kaleidoscopic editing of the greenery around her to confuse and disorientate both the character and the audience. There is a feeling that the forest itself may be sentient and hungry (with an ever moving topography), that while completely alone, Lennon is forever being watched by unknowable forces from beyond our word. The film is undeniably beautiful, even when the events contained within are anything but.

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The film generates some good creeping dread, but genuine scares are a little thin on the ground. Sutherland manages to capture some unsettling imagery and guides the audience to the trippy, ominous ending at a somewhat slow and deliberate pace. For me the pacing was a little too ponderous at times, with not enough character work to break up the repetitious scenes of Lennon wandering the beautiful forests alone.

As strong as both the performances and cinematography are, Lovely, Dark and Deep does have a distinct story problem which is hard to get away from. Sutherland clearly wants to keep the film’s story as vague and obfuscated as possible, but as the unusual events around Lennon begin to spiral towards the supernatural, it becomes difficult to fully appreciate her plight.

A woman alone in a river. Still from Lovely, Dark, and Deep.

Reminiscent of the works of Benson and Moorehead, Lovely, Dark and Deep appears to be telling a cosmic horror story in as grounded a way as possible; but in so doing, some of the flavour of the horror gets lost in the confusion of the plot. While there are some great moments where Lennon is forced to confront the reality of her situation and uncovers exactly where those missing hikers may be ending up, there is a lack of exploration of those events which renders them, while menacing, mostly confusing.

Similarly, while Campbell gives a stellar performance here, it is difficult to get a feel for who Lennon is outwith her past trauma and her determination. She is a closed off character, and as she has few others to play off of in the film it makes her difficult to get to know.

Lovely, Dark and Deep is a strong directorial debut from Teresa Sutherland and another good addition to Georgina Campbell’s blossoming horror career. But while punctuated by moments of existential horror and dread, the film lacks a cohesive narrative to pull the whole together.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep had its UK premiere at FrightFest Halloween on 28th October. 

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