Fantasia Festival: Lovely, Dark, and Deep (2023)

Director: Teresa Sutherland

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Starring: Georgina Campbell, Nick Blood, Wai Ching Ho

For her feature directorial debut, Teresa Sutherland opens this backcountry set horror film with wildlife noises filling the air. A radio signal breaks it up, as a park ranger listens to the calls on the walkie talkie without responding to them. His focus is on leaving an ominous note before silently walking off into the wilderness, not to be seen again.

This opens up a position at the isolated outpost that is eagerly snapped up by the enigmatic Lennon (Georgina Campbell). The rookie ranger has long awaited this role, taking the opportunity to settle into this minimalistic life while bonding with the friendly and often eating Ranger Jackson (Nick Blood). What soon becomes clear is how mysterious the woods are, linked to bizarre disappearances courtesy of conspiracy theories. Lennon soon discovers something sinister lurking in the landscape, as visions manifest which take her further into dormant horrors which blur the lines between dreams and reality.

Writer/Director Sutherland effectively captures the expansive nature of the forest, conveying how easily somebody could get lost within this location alongside the probability of it concealing an unforeseen danger which lays in wait. As the woods come alive in strange and cosmic ways, what arises from the situation is haunting imagery and unsettling moments, with a standout involving a call for help not appearing as it seems. In spite of this, one wishes the tension was more sustained as the chills waver across the swift runtime.

Key to the film is Campbell's terrific lead performance, conveying a determination to uncover truths linked to the past which haunts her. Light is shed on this deep-seated trauma courtesy of the nightmarish visions, effectively visualized across the journey through manifestations of Lennon's psychological turmoil. While the resolution is a mixed-bag, sticking to its convictions in some areas while feeling ham-fisted in others, this is a decent journey of reconciling with one's self through grief and moving forward with a new path, however questionable it may be.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep made its World Premiere at Fantasia Festival 2023