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Credit: House of Quest

Lovely Dark and Deep Review: Striking Cosmic Horror in the Wilderness

Teresa Sutherland’s feature debut, Lovely, Dark, and Deep, gets lost in the woods as it tries to deliver a cosmic horror atmosphere.

Right up there with aquatic horror movies for me are woodland horror movies as horror comfort food. The ocean and the woods are as entwined in cosmic horror as each other, with more than a dusting of folklore in both. The great wide unknown, man’s hubris at thinking he’s better than nature, and of course, weird and horrifying things lurking in both.

Give me a movie full of strange and sinister happenings in the woods and I’m happier than a truffle pig. The Blair Witch Project, In the Earth, The Ritual, Friday the 13th, and more have informed this love, and the interesting thing there is how flexible the format is. If I have a preference, it’s the kind of ambiguous force of nature style of the Blair Witch Project and Ben Wheatley’s In The Earth. The kind of thing where you’re not sure if it’s just the full power of Mother Nature at supernatural work.

Credit: House of Quest

Teresa Sutherland’s debut feature film Lovely, Dark, and Deep is in that kind of camp, evoking a Silent Hill/The Ritual kind of psychological horror where the environment seems to manifest the protagonist’s worst fears. It can be frustratingly swimmy sometimes, but it sure knows how to make the most of its wooded wilderness.

Forest Ranger Lennon (Barbarian’s Georgina Campbell) has been newly assigned to the back-country patrol of a vast park. It’s an isolated, peaceful job, and probably your best shot at finishing that hefty book you started reading, but for Lennon, there’s a different reason to take on the job. People have gone missing out here. A lot of people, one of whom holds a special place in the heart of Lennon. Using her time alone, Lennon begins to explore the vast area, taking trips that last several days, hoping to find answers.

And find them she does. what she finds however, isn’t easy to comprehend, for her or the viewer, but the woods provide the right kind of backdrop for swimmy reality-bending shenanigans. It can be a criticism of Lovely Dark and Deep that the deeper it dives into its cosmic swirl of confusion the harder it can be to stay engaged with it. It’d be fair criticism too because it’s a film that very much requires patience from the outset and any test of that threatens to test viewers’ patience.

But I found it forgivable enough. I can see why Sutherland finds it necessary to derail Lennon from reality for a spell without making it the tried and trusted trippy route seen elsewhere. Eyes will roll at another horror movie seemingly propping up its scares with personal trauma, but the woods are the star here. They simply feed on those who get too close, like some great unknowing trauma whale swallowing emotional krill. While Lennon’s personal story is a driving force, it doesn’t overwhelm the narrative.

With that comes lots of looming shots of the beautiful and intimidating wilderness, the sound of creaking trees, and an admittedly excessive level of upside-down disorientating tree shots. Sutherland sells the dwarfing expanse of the forest in these shots, but there could be fewer of them without any harm done to the brooding atmosphere.

Credit: House of Quest

Georgina Campbell’s performance is strong enough to gloss over some clearly inferior ones in Lovely, Dark, and Deep, and thankfully, we’re along on her journey far more than we are for the supporting cast.

Despite all the atmosphere and disorientating terror, the effect is diluted by a sense of predictability. The aforementioned test of patience the film puts viewers through can largely be attributed to an outcome that shows its hand far too soon, and in turn, sucks some of the tension out of the air. Thankfully, the revelations are not the only show in town, but it’s certainly unfortunate that they cause the film to stumble at a crucial time.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep is a solid debut from Teresa Sutherland that shows the framework for a promising future. It’s stronger in atmosphere and visuals than it is storytelling, but hardly poor in the latter department.

Score 6/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 6 equates to ”Decent”. It fails to reach its full potential and is a run-of-the-mill experience.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep is out on digital platforms on February 22, 2024.

Disclosure: ComingSoon received a screener for the Lovely, Dark, and Deep review.

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