lovely, dark, and deep (film, 2023) ↓

lovely, dark, and deep (film, 2023)

As a horror fan, I was cautiously optimistic, tuning into "Lovely, Dark, and Deep." The premise of a woman investigating her sister's disappearance in the remote national park where they grew up had potential. Unfortunately, despite some strong elements, this feature-length directorial debut from Teresa Sutherland was a frustrating waste of an interesting setup.

The film wastes no time establishing the source of main character Lennon's trauma - an opening sequence vividly depicts her witnessing her younger sister Sarah mysteriously vanishing without a trace in the dense woods as a child. This painful past motivates Lennon to work as a backcountry ranger in the same park decades later, hoping to find answers. Georgina Campbell does solid work bringing Lennon to life, conveying the character's lingering grief and determination through her nuanced performance.

The film is most compelling in these early stages, as Lennon grapples with facing her demons in the forbidding landscape that has haunted her memories for years. The scenery is perfectly suited to generate an unsettling atmosphere of isolation and lurking menace. Special mention goes to the scenic climbing sequence early on - it's genuinely unnerving, playing on fears of vertigo and vulnerability high above the ground. This promises creepy things by exploiting the natural tension between humans and the untamed wilderness.

It's here that my initial optimism started giving way to disappointment. Rather than building a taut, atmospheric mystery thriller full of creeping dread as the trail goes cold, Sutherland indulges in lengthy, pretentious sequences of dreamlike nonlinear storytelling that provide more confusion than scares or intrigue. Flashbacks and hallucinations start blurring reality to be “artistic,” but it has the opposite effect of draining all tension from the proceedings.

These aimless wanderings through Lennon's fractured psyche go on far too long without developing the characters or advancing any kind of coherent plot. As a viewer who values tight storytelling and restrained shocks over style over substance, I found it tremendously frustrating to watch a movie with solid foundations completely lose its way. The film squanders its golden opportunity to craft a chilling tale of unsolved wilderness disappearances akin to the compelling stories shared in places like the subreddit /r/letsnotmeet.

In another life, this could have been a sinister slow-burner akin to The Ritual or Annihilation that keeps audiences guessing until the unsettling climax. Instead, it descends into an incoherent muddle, dragging on for nearly 90 minutes without building to any real payoff or providing definitive answers to the mysteries posed. Worse still, the climactic “twist” is paper-thin and nonsensical, leaving major plot holes and character motivations frustratingly unexplained. All the eerie atmosphere and mystery vanishes, punctured by an ending that raises far more questions than it resolves.