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Lovely, Dark and Deep review: horror earns the title

A woman looks worried in the film Lovely, Dark, and Deep

In psychological and supernatural horror Lovely, Dark, and Deep, Lennon takes a job as a Canadian park ranger to track down her missing sister, but her search soon turns to survival.

A feature-length debut from writer and director Teresa Sutherland, Lovely, Dark, and Deep shades the horror into a beautiful, natural painting. The film opens ominously as we see a park ranger leave a note outside his cabin shortly before he vanishes, never to be seen again. It reads: ‘I owe this land a body’. And within five minutes, we owe Lovely, Dark, and Deep the full depth of our attention.

When Lennon (Georgina Campbell) takes a job as a park ranger at a Canadian national park, one could be forgiven for mistaking her as a wholesome lover of nature. But Lennon arrives with an agenda. For a number of years, people have been disappearing from national parks across the country, as evidenced by a podcast Lennon listens to during one of her early hikes. As we trek further into the psyche of our protagonist, it becomes clear that her sister is among the names of the missing – and Lennon intends to find a trace of her.

You can certainly see why Sutherland took inspiration from Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep’.

Georgina Campbell is undoubtedly the highlight of Lovely, Dark, and Deep, which should come as no surprise but that makes it no less impressive. After her performances in the acclaimed Barbarian and Bird Box Barcelona, as well as upcoming release The Watchers, Campbell has proved her horror chops and then some. She carries the weight of Lennon’s loss on her face, yet a steely determination with every stride – allowing us to both sympathise and will her on. In a psychological horror, the story lives or dies with the performance of the protagonist, and Campbell drags us kicking and screaming through every nail-biting scene – as bewitching as the forest around her.

As Lennon hikes her way through the woodlands, scratching off territory after territory in her search for her sister, the genius of Sutherland’s story becomes menacingly apparent. She takes something so natural, so pure, so beautiful and fills it with paranoia. A breathtaking view becomes an ocean of hiding places. A gentle breeze whistling through the trees becomes a distant scream. And a national park by day becomes a sinister no-man’s land by night. As chief ranger Zhang (Wai Ching Ho) so portentously puts it: ‘they live here, where it still gets dark; where you can still see the stars.’

A park ranger has spikes coming out of their head in the film Lovely, Dark, and Deep
Lovely, Dark, and Deep (XYZ Films)

Cinematographer Rui Poças does a masterful job and telling the tale of the Canadian forest. The beautiful depictions of nature in full force are expertly intertwined with a sense of unease and mystery in Lennon’s surroundings. Highlighting both the beauty and terror within the same still landscape is nothing short of genius, and Poças’ shots provide a lot of the tension between Campbell’s own performance. The contrast between scenic and sinister as the sun rises and sets is an effective and striking motif used expertly throughout the film.

But who are they? Perhaps the one stumble Lovely, Dark, and Deep suffers on its midnight hike through the woods is the lack of a satisfying ending. After over an hour of lingering questions, it does little to provide Lennon or the viewer with too many answers. Of course, there is a certain horror in the unknown, but Lovely, Dark, and Deep doesn’t quite manage to stick the landing on either side of that precarious ledge. It is not a horror created to buy cheap thrills through CGI monsters and jump scares – it is a horror created to earn a feeling of unease. But Lovely, Dark, and Deep lacks that one scene of bone-chilling horror that would elevate it to the likes of Campell’s previous work, Barbarian. That one moment you tell your friends about when introducing them to the film – eagerly scanning their faces to see their own reaction.

Get it on Apple TV

Lovely, Dark, and Deep is now available to watch on VOD in the US and will be released digitally in the UK and Ireland on March 25, 2024.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep: Trailer (XYZ Films)
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