“The Deeper You Dig” Movie Review


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     There’s a story within a story when you allow the haunting “The Deeper You Dig” to have a place within your own nightmares long after the final credits roll.  Billed as “The Adams Family”, filmmakers and partners John Adams and Toby Poser, along with their daughter Zelda Adams, act, write, direct, shoot, edit, and score the entire film in what is perhaps the most notable organically indie movie project that I’ve ever come across.  This is about as far away as filmmaking can get from a studio, and yet the work here boasts the polish and refinement of a production that had five hundred people working on it.

     Perhaps the initial thought after viewing “The Deeper You Dig” will be something along the lines of it lacking the epic feel of bigger movies, particularly since the cast is mainly comprised of three people and the setting is staged primarily in an old house in the middle of nowhere.  I’d put that notion to bed by pointing out the number of single location stage plays that have translated nicely to the big screen, as well as acclaimed horror films like “The Purge” which also took place primarily inside of a house with a few central characters.  Bottom line is do you have a story or not? Are the performances meaningful and compelling?

     As the credited co-directors, Adams and Poser certainly bring plenty to the cinematic table.  With the story occurring in a snowy small woodland town, each shot brings forth the beauty of the surroundings, even as horrific events unfold.  And their daughter, Zelda, who in addition to her acting duties also serves as the film’s co-cinematographer, excels with a series of slow zoom shots, utilizing camera angles through window frames as mischievous acts are seen from afar. No doubt, they have created some really spooky imagery for the audience to absorb.  There’s plenty of influence in both the way the film is photographed and the subtle unnerving camera movement is utilized, with the work of Stanley Kubrick coming directly to mind.

     Kurt (John Adams) has made his way to the locale after buying an old dilapidated and abandoned home in the woods for the purpose of fixing it up and flipping it.  He’s completely alone and spends his days hauling supplies, tearing out old fixtures, and at some point plans to remodel the entire place.  At night, he spends his time stopping at a convenience store for liquor and frequenting the town’s diners before heading to bed and starting over the next day.  By himself, it’s an arduous task and a solemn existence that lends to a person who is likely running from a questionable past.

     Early scenes also introduce us to Ivy (Toby Poser) and her daughter, Echo (Zelda Adams), who happen to live down the road from Kurt’s work site.  Ivy is seen performing typical mother duties.  Picking up her teenaged daughter from school, talking about her day, and ensuring she does her homework are a few of them, but the unique bond between the two is evident from the first scene.  Zelda is what her mother refers to as “goth”, and it seems her primary source of potential trouble is wearing too dark a shade of lipstick while at school.  Ivy’s understanding of her daughter is propped by her own profession, which sees her meeting with clients daily in an effort to help them speak to the dead.  An occupation that will come in handy later.

     After a night of eating and likely drinking too much, Kurt makes his way down the dark icy roads leading to his house when he suddenly hits something.  He stops, fearing the worst, and discovers it was Echo, who had decided to spend her night sledding down a hill near her home.  Knowing he is intoxicated, Kurt decides to take Echo’s body back to his house and at that point makes a horrific decision on how to handle the situation.  The kind of act one does not come back from.  Soon after, Ivy reports Echo missing and suspicions immediately begin to point toward Kurt as the probable culprit.

     Police are unable to make headway in the missing person case, but Ivy and her unique talents seem perfect for finding her daughter’s captor or killer.  And this is where the slow burn Adams and Poser have concocted throughout the film’s first act, begins to explode into the paranormal.  Where the images Kurt believes he is seeing, as well as the audience, begin to blur the lines between nightmares and reality.  Apparently, the tormenting guilt of such a heinous act is a tough thing to live with.

     “The Deeper You Dig” will not be for everybody.  The filmmakers take their time moving the events of the story forward and clearly want to ensure we are invested in the characters before allowing them to take the kind of actions that have real emotional stakes attached.  We need to feel for Ivy and her desperate quest to find out what happened to her daughter.  We have to understand the motives behind Kurt’s flawed decision making and the irony of his inability to cover the bloody tracks left by something that will haunt him to his very end.  To that extent, the screenplay by Poser and Adams delivers an unsettling experience outside of genre norms and leaves the audience with plenty to ponder.  But with such an accomplishment, everything comes right back to the fact their creation serves as perhaps the ultimate filmmaking do it yourself project.  And for that, the applause should be even louder. 

GRADE: B