A Walk in the Woods

Lovely, Dark, and Deep

by Hope Madden

What is the draw of the deep woods? Ticks? High likelihood of injury with haphazard chances of rescue? Cocaine bears?

Even the obvious reasons to steer clear of the woods can’t deter a lot of people. Writer/director Teresa Sutherland’s Lovely, Dark, and Deep links two risks that have haunted writers and creators throughout existence. Some people go crazy in the woods, and many get lost in there and never come out.

“And into the forest I must go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” John Muir said that. The “father of the National Parks” may not have predicted Sutherland’s translation.

Sutherland drops new ranger Lennon (Georgina Campbell, Barbarian) in the National Park back country, where she will spend the season mainly alone in her ranger hut. Does she know that Ranger Varney (Soren Hellerup) disappeared last season?

Likely it wouldn’t dissuade Lennon, who has a past to reconcile and some podcasts on missing people to listen to.

Campbell’s performance shifts as Lennon’s determination makes way for absolute confusion and terror. What begins as single-minded pursuit shows itself to be desperation in disguise. Willfulness gives way to horror as Lennon’s investigation turns up wooded weirdness and wickedness she did not predict.

Wide shots and drone work keep Lennon dwarfed by an increasingly claustrophobic forest, though Campbell never lets the character feel overmatched by nature. Not nature. But a disorienting woods as deep as these (it’s actually Portugal) can easily conceal a lot that is far from natural.

Sutherland’s film is a bit of a slow burn, but once it hits its stride, she throws an unsettling assortment of hellish visions at you. You don’t have to have a natural (and really healthy, I think) fear of the woods to know it’s time to get the F out of Jellystone.

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