As Teresa Sutherland’s Lovely, Dark, and Deep opens, the first thing that hits you is the vastness. We are met with a series of shots of wide, undisturbed wilderness. Trees reaching up to the sky and dwarfing anyone who might be standing beneath them. Miles and miles of quiet nothingness. At once peaceful, and foreboding. Because against all this vastness, we are small. Insignificant. And forgettable.
Park Ranger Lennon (Georgina Campbell) is preparing for a new job. After years in a more junior level position, where she interacted with tourists and day hikers, she is finally being given the opportunity to go out into the backcountry and spend months in the wilderness of the far reaches of Arveres National Park. Her motivations for pursuing this position have to do with a tragedy in her past. When she was a child, her sister Jenny disappeared in this very park. One moment, she was right there, and the next, she was gone. Vanished without a trace. This incident has haunted Lennon into adulthood, and she is determined to search the park for any clue as to her sister’s disappearance.
While Jenny disappeared years ago, there are whispers of other such cases. Sudden disappearances where people simply vanished. Nothing left behind, no clues, never to be seen again. There are theories and strange conjectures that these disappearances aren’t of the normal, lost hiker variety. That they form a pattern, and even that the park rangers themselves have knowledge about it and work to cover up the truth.
Whatever that truth is, Lennon is determined to find it. Upon reaching her campsite, she immediately begins going out into the wilderness for days at a time, hiking a very specific path in order to cover as much ground as possible and find any clues as to what happened to her sister. She is seeking closure, and she finds it, though not in the way she expects.
She’s not on the job long before the rangers are responding to a new disappearance. In a situation quite similar to the one she experienced as a child, Lennon finds herself searching the park for a woman who disappeared suddenly and unexpectedly. She has the opportunity to prevent another tragedy from occurring, and maybe, just maybe, learn a bit more about what happened to her sister all those years ago.
The film is haunting and weirdly creepy at times. The isolation of the backcountry plays a big part in telling the story and in setting the scene. You feel the open space. The vastness. You have no trouble believing that someone could be swallowed up by the wilderness and never seen again. But it also uses this open space to create a feeling of otherworldly unease. It’s not just the wilderness that feels foreboding, but whatever might be lurking within that vastness. Between the space.
As Lennon spends more time in the backcountry, things get stranger and stranger. Reality starts to become less certain and she becomes unsure of what she is seeing and experiencing. The world around her seems perfectly normal at one moment and upended the next. After a while, it is unclear if anything that she is experiencing is real at all. She hears strange voices on her radio, their sounds garbled and foreboding. She checks her map and her surroundings to find herself strangely miles from where she had been only moments ago. Nothing in these woods is as it seems.
While this weirdness is excellent in setting the scene and complicating the space that Lennon finds herself in, it often doesn’t go far enough. There is a lot that this film does right, but it always seems to stop just short of being truly unsettling. Campbell really sells everything that her character is experiencing and does a great job of bringing the audience into that space with her. As she faces down this Otherness, we begin to feel the fear that any of us might be sucked in and lost. As good as it is, it feels like it pulls back just as it reaches the point of no return. Though Sutherland flirts with the weird, the film stays on the side of a more traditional narrative. Lovely, Dark and Deep is a complicated film that delivers, but frustratingly leaves the audience yearning for more.
Film Score: 3/5