Restore Point and Lovely, Dark, and Deep [Fantasia Fest]

A woman looks at a body lying on a table with equipment around
[L-R] Milan Ondrik as VICTOR, Andrea Mohylová as TROCHINOWSKA in RESTORE POINT

Restore Point [Czech language film], directed by Robert Hloz, written by Tomislav Čečka and Zdeněk Jecelín

Prague, 1941: a new technology called Restore Point allows people to be brought back to life if they are murdered. But not everyone agrees with this band-aid solution to the much larger societal issues plaguing this version of Europe. A group of luddites known as the River of Life protest Restore Point by committing absolute murders – murders in which the killer allows the person to go over 48 hours without backing up, rendering the technology obsolete. Restoring someone past a 48 hour-backup is illegal and, therefore, the loophole River of Life can use to create a new kind of terrorism. Detective Emma Trochinowska (Andrea Mohylová) investigates these murders with utilitarian stoicism.

In Restore Point, Robert Hloz creates a richly detailed futuristic cityscape for the setting of this gritty cyber neo-noir. Inevitable comparisons arise to films like Blade Runner, Minority Report, and the more recent Crimes of the Future. Like in the latter two examples, Restore Point depicts a world plagued by deep societal inequities and human suffering. Instead of dealing with the real issues, the Restoration Institute offers a band-aid solution that only benefits the most wealthy or educated citizens. And as the trope dictates, the system has flaws and leaves users open to fatal errors. Rather than admit these mistakes and go back to the drawing board, the inventors protect the invention from praying eyes, allowing their original visions to be compromised.

a man and a woman face each other on a large staircase
A photo still from RESTORE POINT

 While the scientists defend Restore Point and River of Life works to take it down, the steady and neutral detective only seeks to know the truth. Like Rick Deckard, the unflappable Detective Trochinowska tries to perform her role with unbiased precision, despite having lost a loved one to River of Life. Andrea Mohylová makes a striking vision in her white-blonde ponytail and teal-colored jacket. Rather than pair with a femme fatale, she reluctantly works with David (Matej Hádek), a body who was brought back illegally past the 48-hour mark and suffers from missing memories and a rapidly deteriorating body.

Notable for being the first Czech science fiction film made in 25 years, Restore Point cleverly addresses timeless issues such as life and death and if humans should seek to control such things. While the ethical dilemmas it asks feel new – Is turning off someone's backup the same as murder? – the overall themes feel familiar and approachable. When fear gives birth to inventions that give humans the illusion of control, life becomes a commodity and brings out the worst in people. New kinds of black markets surface and offer new visions of cheap thrills. Hloz uses this to build a vivid and frightening world that feels only a few upgrades away.

Playing at Fantasia Fest. Go here for all of my Fantasia 2023 coverage. 

Final score: 3.5


Lovely, Dark, and Deep, directed and written by Teresa Sutherland

For her feature-length directorial debut, Teresa Sutherland (writer on The Wind and Midnight Mass) explores her fear and fascination with the many tales of people going missing in national parks. With her feet firmly planted in real events, Sutherland fashions an atmospheric eco-horror with a fairy tale feel.

Ranger Lennon (Georgina Campbell; Barbarian) has just earned her dream job of park ranger at Arvores National Park. She arrives at the park headquarters to acquire her assignment and marching orders. Her boss Zhang (Wai Ching Ho; Turning Red) delivers a poetic sounding mantra that many nature-loving groups stand by: "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories, kill nothing but time." After setting up camp, Lennon sets into the daily routine of scouting her assigned territory and making reports. When people start going missing on Lennon's watch, her true reason for wanting the job becomes clearer – Lennon wants to uncover the truth about the vanished.

From the very beginning Sutherland and director of photography Rui Poças signal that within the woods lies a type of madness. Lennon's predecessor at station 109 leaves a sign on the outpost sign: "I owe this camp a body." Black deer roam the forest and sometimes block the roads, and the missing people if found have no shoes. Establishing shots careen the viewer topsy turvy through the trees and cliffs. The camera shows a tilting world and a disorienting experience. It's an effective if overused technique found notably in movies like The Shining and more recently in Midsommar.

Sutherland successfully builds a tone and mood with these techniques and visuals. And the podcasts and news reports that Lennon listens to on the job add a nice touch of realism to the storytelling. The actual plot leaves something to be desired, which is disappointing from a director with such strong writing credits. Lennon's story sticks too closely to themes we've seen on screen many times before. Sutherland spends a long time establishing the fear and dread for a payoff that never really comes. Perhaps her desire to explore these ideas far outweighed her desire to tell a compelling story.

One thing that does work is Georgina Campbell as Ranger Lennon. Campbell wowed audiences in her Barbarian performance, and here shows that she can hold attention for an entire runtime without the distraction of Justin Long to mar things. Similar to Rebecca Hall, she's an excellent genre actress and can convey emotions without words. Her Ranger Lennon feels peace in wide open spaces but carries an interior anxiety, shown with her constant nail biting.

On the surface, Lovely, Dark, and Deep tells a story of one woman's desire to resolve a childhood loss. But there's also a message of allowing nature to keep its secrets and wildness. The desire of humans is to dominate and conquer wide open spaces. And if you disobey the mantra to take nothing but memories, nature may decide to take something from you.

Playing at Fantasia Fest. Go here for all of my Fantasia 2023 coverage. 

Final score: 2.5 out of 5