“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep”
By Naomi Roper
Lennon (Georgina Campbell, Barbarian) is a woman steeped in tragedy. She is a freshly minted backcountry park ranger who lives a life of profound solitude in a lonely hut in a US national park. Haunted by a terrible incident when she was a child and dogged by a black stag who may or may not exist she spends her days relentlessly mapping the terrain of the desolate wilderness surrounding her. And then a girl goes missing…
Lovely, Dark and Deep is the directorial debut of Teresa Sutherland (who also wrote the script) and Sutherland’s follow-up to the hugely under-rated The Wind (scripted by Sutherland and directed by Emma Tammi). Sutherland expands on the promise demonstrated by The Wind’s stellar script and brings her immense skills to this disquieting cosmic horror.
As much a meditation on loneliness, loss and the eternalness of grief as a “there’s something in the woods” horror Lovely, Dark and Deep takes its time to ensnare viewers in its web. The beautiful, swooping, often upside-down visuals of the breathtaking vistas lend a certain wooziness to the affair. Time, distance and life itself have no meaning in these woods where cosmic horrors dwell.
The movie is practically a one-woman show and Georgina Campbell (who memorably broke out last year as the female lead in Barbarian) is excellent here. Lennon is a woman who has been carved from grief, it’s in every sharp line of her face, in her hesitation to make friends and play nice with the other rangers and in her determination to spend her life alone and eternally searching for that which she has lost. Campbell is compelling as the haunted, brave and decent woman trying to make sense of her world marked by senseless tragedy.
Sutherland avoids easy answers as to what exactly lives in the woods and without the ever-compelling Campbell as an anchor a viewer could get frustrated by the deliberate pacing. The story seems inspired by the Missing 411 conspiracy theory- a series of books where author David Paulides documents cases of people who have gone missing or been found dead in national parks in unusual circumstances. (There’s an excellent Astonishing Legends two-part deep dive on the subject).
One of the most unnerving horrors in recent years Lovely, Dark and Deep builds to a climax which is as breathtakingly bleak and desolate as the unforgiving landscape surrounding Lennon.
Teresa Sutherland masterfully creates an atmosphere of unrelenting dread and overwhelming sadness that will have you side-eyeing the hell out of trees for weeks afterwards.
Lovely, Dark and Deep premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival and is awaiting distribution.