Released Mar. 24, 2017
Unrated (equivalent to R rating for violence, thematic elements, brief nudity, language, and a scene of sexual assault) – 1hr 25min
Directed by Hunter Adams
Starring Ted Levine, Samantha Isler, Danny Goldring, Troy Ruptash
Set in the year 1977, a teenage girl, consumed by remorse from the tragic and mysterious death of her brother, is offered a seemingly impossible proposal to bring him back to life, but at what cost?
Dig Two Graves plays more as an American heartland mystery thriller than a horror movie, even if it implies some supernatural elements. The focus here is on story, themes, and mood and much less on typical horror elements. It plays like a slowburn film in the first third, but the plot points move much quicker from there.
In his feature debut, writer/director Hunter Adams approaches the task with an extremely ambitious agenda. Dig Two Graves attempts to address grief, revenge, betrayal, black magic, power, sadism, dehumanization, regret, redemption, and the traumas of war all while capturing the essence of late-1970’s small-town America, the bonds between family, the enduring legacy of sins past, and the struggles of both being a teenager and losing a loved one – all inside the span of 85 minutes. Given all that, does it come as a surprise that it doesn’t reach its lofty aims? Not really – in some ways, the movie feels like an adaptation of some highly-regarded novel that tried to squeeze as much of the book into the movie as it could without much consideration for whether each element was being given its proper attention. If anything, it does a good job of capturing the sense of time and place and telling the story of the consequences of long-forgotten atrocities returning for retribution. I will say though – there are some very well-directed scenes here, even if they don’t add up to the very large total intended. Adams has certifiable filmmaker talent and I want to see what he does next.
Now, for something like this, there needs to be some pretty damn strong performances to anchor all these competing and interwoven themes, and Ted “Put the Lotion in the Basket” Levine proves to be up to the task. With that instantly recognizable fried baritone voice of his, Levine brings both a folksy charm and a haunted quality to the role of Waterhouse, local sheriff and family patriarch. He’s quite likeable, despite the knowledge that, in the opening scene, he was involved in something very awful in his youth; we’re not sure exactly what it was, but it’s a thing he’s never been held accountable for, so you know there’s some uncomfortable revelations ahead.
Then we have Samantha Isler as young tomboy and Waterhouse’s granddaughter Jake. Given that this is a low-budget indie film, there may perhaps be too much put on her plate here. She’s asked to be a disaffected teenager wracked by grief, guilt, resentment, confusion, and self-doubt while being likewise driven by inner strength, determination, fortitude, and love for family and to be all these things while pursuing a wildly immoral goal without coming across as either unlikable or unsympathetic. That might be an impossible character arc for a movie that’s under 90 minutes. And all those things about her character – they weren’t from Isler’s performance, who, while adequate from scene-to-scene, generally wears the same facial expression for the movie’s entire runtime – I got those things from where the story puts her, what’s asked from her character at any given time, and what the script has her say. And again, that is largely where the problem lies – a case of a wildly over-ambitious script.
There’s not much else to be said about Dig Two Graves. The rest of the acting is satisfactory and the dark secret at the heart of the story is pretty dark. Another half hour may have given the over-stuffed plot more room to breathe, or it might have made things drag – it’s hard to say. Even with everything crammed into its lean runtime, it has some draggy moments when it’s trying to keep some of its more neglected components up in the air to no avail. That’s not to say that it isn’t pretty decent – it’s just not the modern classic or unexpected gem to which it seems to have aspired.
Dig Two Graves gets a