Georgina Campbell had a landmark moment in horror history when she starred in last year’s “Barbarian,” offering a surrogate we could deeply worry about as her AirBnb experience fell apart, one secret after another. She brings much of the same intensity to writer/director Teresa Sutherland’s debut “Lovely, Dark, and Deep,” a feverish horror movie mostly set in the wild unknown that is the great outdoors at night. With Campbell’s intuition as an actor guiding the way, “Lovely, Dark, and Deep” becomes a claustrophobic experience about the darkness.
The setting for this film is almost comical, but the menacing nature is so thick that it works. It takes place at a national park with a long history of disappearances, a massive record of people going onto its trails, and simply vanishing. The place should be shut down or doused in gallons of holy water, but nonetheless. Campbell plays Lennon, a park ranger who spends much of her time not seeing people, monitoring the park’s many trails. The landscape (which is actually Portugal) is blanketed with dread from droning scores and ominous wide shots, which complement our worry for Lennon: why is she out there?
It turns out that Lennon is working in this park for more than the scenery and that she is personally aware of the traumatic effect it can cause by making people vanish. But that part of her story isn’t as compelling as the present, where she faces freaky shadows in the night and disquieting daylight. Sutherland’s script relies on dream logic a little too much later on, with a change of scenery that’s not as intriguing as what she creates with a suspect Mother Nature. But “Lovely, Dark, and Deep” has a tight grip, cleverly reframing the woods as a new space in which no one can hear you scream.
One of Fantasia’s greatest finds has to be the work of Zelda Adams, John Adams, and Toby Poser, known as the Adams family. The trio (along with family and friends) have been making DIY horror movies in their neck of the woods in upstate New York, and premiered “The Deeper You Dig” and then a few years “Hellbender” at the Montreal festival. Throughout the years, it has been a thrill to see them evolve but also embrace what they love. In turn, they have created their own brand of macabre, which usually is paired with an awesome, fuzz-bass dirge soundtrack (from their band H6llB6nd6r).
The Adams family returned to Fantasia this year with “An Adams Family Picture Show,” a Great Depression period piece set among carnies and liars inflicted with trauma from World War I. It’s their biggest movie so far, with extras and sets that recall “Nightmare Alley” (both the original and Guillermo del Toro’s color tribute), in which the Adams use their eye for the weird and the choreographed. “Where the Devil Roams” has at least two music video-length sequences sometimes co-starring a 1931 Ford. Hell yeah.
“Where the Devil Roams” gets more of a discernible path when it sets this family on a rampaging road trip throughout America, parallel to the carnival’s journey. As the trio crosses the paths of individuals who embody greed or apathy, scenes are spiked with blood just as much as they are delicious, darkly whimsical dialogue (“Looks like the devil’s got a new dance partner; don’t step on his toes”). The Adams’ individual on-screen performances help carve such strange individuals who only seem to make more sense when they straddle the gruesome line of life and death.
“Where the Devil Roams” is a little more obtuse as a collection of hard-considered but trippy words than “Hellbender” or “The Deeper You Dig,” but it’s stitched together mighty nicely, with a growing plot about assembling body parts. Their collective filmmaking eye is still so compellingly intentional and full of riches. Whether it’s with the desaturated color palette or later full black and white, the Adams are so gifted at filming bleak Americana, corpses, cloudy days, and rotting hands.
Kim Albright’s “With Love and a Major Organ,” a SXSW 2023 film that made a stop at Fantasia, has a big, gooey heart. That is one of the many endearing and enriching things about this movie, a clever sci-fi comedy for anyone who feels we could all stand to live and love a little more. In one of its many impressive feats, “With Love and a Major Organ” earns the right to be this sweet (and even then, it’s not overly sugary). Julia Lederer’s script is like a more optimistic Charlie Kaufman, but comparisons for this film to any other entities stop there.
The story is deceptively simple, considering its impact with its filmmaking and acting, both of which are driven by a desire to put this story’s light out into the world. “With Love and a Major Organ” takes place in the near future, in which life is incredibly bland. And we humans like it that way. Everyone turns to an app called LifeZapp to make decisions for them or even choose who they should be with. There aren’t many special effects used to create this future, as they would be unnecessary. It’s in how people file on the bus, or sit in their cubicles, or talk to each other.
In this world, Anabel (Anna Maguire) is a massive anomaly. Yes, she works at a place for “virtual insurance,” but she’s antsy with life and hungry for discovery. She wants to fill her life with that which feels human. She then meets a quiet man in the park, George (Hamza Haq), who answers a question about what he does with “Clicking and scrolling mostly.” (Join the club.) Anabel leans into her excitement about him, and when she records Valentines for him on tape, she holds no color back: “These feelings are lice for which there is no shampoo … my hope is that you are itchy too.” She soon rips out her heart and sends it to him, a turning point that makes us appreciate the importance of Anabel’s heart even more.
“With Love and a Major Organ” is bold in many ways, including how it manages to present its mundane world with tact and spirit. Albright’s direction always aims for the compelling and pleasing but non-showy, like when a bachelorette party falls apart with Anna at the center, executed in one smoothly coordinated shot. Maguire’s performance fluctuates between funny and tragic, but her work is so natural. This movie has so much wisdom, and it comes from Albright and her inspired team as if it were intuition.