[Fantasia 2023] LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP -- An Unsettling Atmosphere Cannot Sustain This Bland Psychological Horror
Review by Sean Boelman
Teresa Sutherland is already an acclaimed writer in the horror space, having written the horror Western The Wind and serving as a writer on Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass. Genre cinephiles are undeniably hoping that her directorial debut, Lovely, Dark, and Deep will boast the same level of pedigree, but apart from some effective visuals, the film offers precious little to enjoy.
The movie follows a novice park ranger who, as she begins to investigate a series of disappearances, finds her grip on reality becoming increasingly strained. This is the type of movie where viewers will likely ask themselves “what the heck is happening in this?” and not be able to figure out the answer — but not in an intriguing, thought-provoking way.
If the film is effective at one thing, it is creating an effective atmosphere. As a psychological horror, the movie almost works. It has a little bit of The Shining, a little bit of Lynch, a little bit of Lovecraft — all influences which are extremely good at creeping under the viewer’s skin. Unfortunately, what the movie builds to feels quite anticlimactic, leaving viewers feeling empty and unsatisfied once the credits roll.
However, even with the unsettling atmosphere, the film isn’t able to maintain tension for the entirety of its runtime — made even worse by the fact that it is under 90 minutes. It all too often feels like the movie is just spinning its wheels, coming up with excuses to give us more cool and unsettling imagery.
The technicals of the film are all quite strong. The cinematography by Rui Poças, the music by Shida Shahabi, and the effects (both practical and CGI) look great. Sutherland also really knows how to use the location in which the movie was shot — a woodsy area in Portugal — to maximum effect.
It will likely come as no surprise that, like many psychological horror films, Lovely, Dark, and Deep is another examination of the things that haunt the characters internally. However, this would work better if viewers knew… almost anything about these characters. Even the protagonist feels needlessly vague, and so many character decisions in the movie simply make no sense.
It’s a shame that the film doesn’t give its cast much to work with because lead actress Georgina Campbell is extremely talented — as evidenced by last year’s unexpected breakout Barbarian. Campbell tries her best here, and she manages to squeeze just enough emotion out of the character for the audience to care about her fate, but nothing beyond that.
The title Lovely, Dark, and Deep is a misnomer — in actuality, the movie is only one of those three things: dark. There’s a lot of potential in this thanks to the talent in front of and behind the camera, but Teresa Sutherland’s feature debut unfortunately doesn’t quite come together.
Lovely, Dark, and Deep screened at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs from July 20 to August 9.