Fantasia 2023 Review: LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP, These Woods Have Promises To Keep

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
Fantasia 2023 Review: LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP, These Woods Have Promises To Keep

The ancient trees in Arvores National Park sway menacingly in Teresa Sutherland’s Lovely, Dark, and Deep, a story of grief, a search for redemption, and a past that won’t let go.

Georgina Campbell (Barbarian) plays Lennon, a woman with a past who has just landed a long dreamed of job as a backcountry park ranger. Arvores has been the site of dozens of unexplained disappearances over the years, and she seems to be connected to the land in an uncanny way. When she rescues a woman from becoming the next statistic, a malevolent force demands repayment for its loss. But for Lennon, it’s personal, and she soon learns a little about the secrets held by the forest and her part in its sinister game.

Sutherland made a name for herself as the writer of TIFF 2018 Midnight Madness title, The Wind, which led her to a staff writing position on Mike Flanagan’s acclaimed Netflix series, Midnight Mass. Like The Wind, Lovely, Dark, and Deep investigates the unexplored, untamed great American wilderness and all of the mysteries that it holds. Here in her first feature, she creates a sense of dread fright from the opening minutes of the film as the credits roll over bewildering vistas, disorienting camera angles, and music gentle enough to let you know that there’s something more happening between the trees that we cannot see.

Not a story about any kind of intentional man-made curse, Lovely, Dark, and Deep seems to deal more with the incursion of hubristic humanity into Arvores delicate ecosystem. Lennon’s connection to the park is revealed slowly, and there’s a kind of aching desire in her to redeem herself for her past failings. She comes with baggage, the other rangers are somewhat aware of her past, but she’s determined not to let it guide her future, though she ultimately doesn’t really have a choice.

Though it isn’t entirely a one-hander, Campbell leads the film solo for a good two thirds of the run time, and she is magnificent in giving the audience just enough to understand that she’s conflicted without overselling. She is strong and delicate, determined and cautious when it comes to her new job, a position she’s sought for years. When she finally gets it, the woods remind her that this land isn’t hers. It, and everything in it, belongs to the earth.

Sutherland and her cinematographer, Rui Poças (Good Manners), work in close concert to create an Arvores that seems bewilderingly benign while maintaining a sense of menace. Poças uses his camera to take what should be very familiar views of forests and trees and making them seem as though they are hiding something important, upending our expectations of what the forest should look like. Nothing is explicitly wrong with them, but they just aren’t right. Combined with Shida Shahabi’s (Falcon Lake) slightly off kilter score, the park becomes a place where we can lose ourselves, like the dozens who’ve disappeared over the years.

The last few years of horror have been laden with exhausting trauma horror, even some of the decade’s finest films have used this trope to kick start their stories. Lovely, Dark, and Deep’s battle between its protagonist and the land around her does certainly align itself with a traumatic event in her youth, but it is not so in-your-face that it becomes a burden to the storytelling. The film is well-paced, delivers plenty of chills, and does so without monsters or jump scares, and even with a minimal amount of bloodletting manages to be terrifyingly astute in its study of Lennon’s battle with her own demons and the demons that are after her. One of the year’s best horror films, Lovely, Dark, and Deep grabs hold and doesn’t let go, truly chilling and an exciting feature debut for Sutherland.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep

  • Teresa Sutherland
  • Teresa Sutherland
  • Georgina Campbell
  • Nick Blood
  • Wai Ching Ho
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Teresa SutherlandGeorgina CampbellNick BloodWai Ching HoHorror

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