Toronto After Dark 2023 Wrap-Up | Lovely, Dark, and Deep Review

by Andrew Parker

Writer-director Teresa Sutherland’s first feature behind the camera, Lovely, Dark, and Deep (which screened as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival late last month) starts off in an intriguing place before going nowhere slowly. It’s an admirable technical achievement, but Sutherland’s work is too sparse and unnecessarily stretched out for its own good.

Lennon (rising star Georgina Campbell) rookie National Parks ranger has landed the dream assignment she has been angling for: 90 days stationed at an outpost in the backcountry, off the grid, and in an area without cellular service. But while she should be patrolling the area for wayward hikers, litterbugs, and campers in distress, Lennon has an ulterior motive. She wants to investigate the unsolved disappearance of her little sister years earlier, and to probe its connection to a rash of hikers and campers that tend to disappear in that area.

Sutherland (best known for her work as a writer on Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass and feature film The Wind) does a wonderful job of creating disorienting, dream-like images that capture the enormity of the woods, and Campbell delivers a fine performance that asks her to convey a lot on her own, but Lovely, Dark, and Deep still disappoints.

Sutherland’s direction is solid, but her storytelling is too sparse. It’s not tense enough to be a thriller, nor weird enough to be a surrealist freak out, consistently switching between those two tones without resolving to follow either path. It’s psychologically intriguing, but a lot of Lovely, Dark, and Deep feels like it’s being weird for the sake of padding things out rather than in a bid to move anything along. The narrative flatness builds to what’s more or less a forty minute long dream sequence that keeps hammering home the same points over and over again, before arriving at an unsatisfying conclusion predicated on a pivot that never lands. It’s a film that shows promise for the future, but a vision that’s not quite there yet.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep screened as part of the 2023 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

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