Dig Two Graves
A girl's obsession with her brother's disappearance leads her on a nightmarish journey through a small town's Gothic landscape where she is faced with a deadly proposition. How far will she go to save the people she loves?
March 24th, 2017
How does the old Confucius saying go?
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge… dig two graves.”
This line of sound advice is not only the central theme of Dig Two Graves – a new thriller from writer/director Hunter Adams – but the line is actually spoken by one of the characters. Along with the tale of revenge, there is an examination of the levels to which grieving family members will go to be reunited with a loved one. There are some distant echoes of Pet Sematary here and it’s a lovely mix of several genres – including horror, mystery, drama and that good old-fashioned revenge.
Teenaged girl Jake Mather (Samantha Isler) can’t get past the untimely death of her older brother Sean (Ben Schneider) at a local lake/quarry. As she makes a potential deal to bring her beloved brother back via a ne’er-do-well family of gypsies in the local woods – headed by Wyeth (Troy Ruptash), her life turns upside-down. Her grandfather is Sheriff Waterhouse (The Silence of the Lambs’ Ted Levine) and he’s got some history with that quarry as well as that creepy family in the woods. It’ll all come to a head as secrets are revealed and violence runs rampant.
The film is a short 84 minutes, so the pieces which I found lacking (or even missing) could have been fleshed out a bit, thus appeasing my own personal complaints. Those of us with siblings know how tight those bonds can be. It’s something many of us understand and can appreciate, but if it’s not done quite right on the cinema screen, it’ll be noticeable. Case in point is Jake’s relationship with Sean. We get basically one scene of them together before tragedy strikes. There is some additional information provided as the film goes on, but it took a lot for me to buy into Jake’s action, when the brother/sister bond never appeared to be that strong or special to begin with.
On the other hand, the strong ties between grandfather and granddaughter are nicely-written and beautifully illustrated by Levine and Isler, which puts a bit of a damper on all of the good things the film has to offer. When looking at the amazing bond she holds with her grandfather and the seemingly light connection she had with her late brother – are we to believe she would do some of the things she does during the course of the film (which include lying to her beloved grandfather) to bring back her brother? Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite add up.
There are also a few scenes which felt useless to the film overall – most notably the scene of Jake’s mother taking her out for a meal in an effort to forget their troubles. It did absolutely nothing to push the story ahead. To the filmmakers: cut the fat and extend some of the meatier bits – you’ve got the time to do it.
As for the good stuff… (when Dig Two Graves is good, it’s very good).
The cinematography is stunning. The piece was shot in southern Illinois and that wintery Midwest landscape is perfectly captured. It’s desolate and rife with leafless trees, but still full of character, and the many grand shots (particularly of cars speeding down the highway) are impressive and help to make this film feel heavy and oddly – it helped to cement the late ‘70s backdrop. It feels nostalgic – and we all know how difficult it is to get period pieces just right.
And by capturing that essence of the late ‘70s – making me remember such films as Ode to Billy Joe (there was something in the attitude – certainly in the opening scenes between Sean and Jake – which had me thinking about that Robby Benson classic) Dig Two Graves nailed it. Nothing stood out as “non-period” and that is exactly the reaction you want for a story which takes place 40 years ago. One false move in the art department, and you could easily lose your audience.
The editing in the film is nothing short of miraculous. It’s inspired and clever – including several scenes switching back and forth between the two timelines of the story. During one scene of note, the camera shot panning around the back of a character changes from one story 30 years ago to the “present day” story of 1977 – all within one shot. Very nice.
There are no real scares to be found here, and I could have done with a bit more suspense/tension, but the film is really more of a mystery and a relationship film, so these shortcomings can probably be forgiven. But if you’re sitting down to get lost in a rich fictional world, Dig Two Graves fits the bill. Just don’t expect a jump-a-minute boo-fest.
It’s a pretty solid bunch of performances from a gifted cast. The only (slight) problem comes from young Gabriel Cain as Willie Proctor. Some of his reactions feel a bit disingenuous and therefore stood out.
But in the end, it’s the relationship so carefully constructed by Adams and perfectly played by Isler and Levine, which will most delight the audience.
Isler is a marvel as Jake. She captures the tensions and problems of a teenager – but adding in the weight of grief – well, it’s nearly impossible to bear (for the character and the audience). But Isler makes us see how tough this grief is, and how easy it is to make a terrible choice and to make a deal with the devil (so to speak). Isler is terrific on her own, but when she and Levine come together on-screen, the chemistry is absolutely divine.
Levine as her grandfather gave an unexpected performance full of warmth and tenderness. It’s tough for actors to get past roles which have defined their career. In Levine’s case, he has to contend with the serial killer most known for saying, “It puts the lotion in the basket”. But in Dig Two Graves, he’s really quite remarkable. And it’s a far cry from the danger and chaos he brought to The Silence of the Lambs. His powerful blue eyes can’t hide any of the guilt the character has, and when he takes Jake in his arms with tears in those icy blues – he tells her that everything’s going to be okay. You’ll melt. I did.
And as Wyeth, the head of the backwoods gypsy family – Troy Ruptash is perfectly mysterious and menacing. And his moments with Levine in the film’s climax will give you chills. It’s a very human and yet deeply creepy performance – a rarity (and a nice change of pace) for the villain in a film.
While not perfect, the film is easy-peasy to recommend. Strong performances (Ted Levine is the standout), authentic character connections and beautiful cinematography will engage you, enthrall you and impress you.
Dig Two Graves won several awards at various film festivals and is scheduled for theatrical release on March 24th, 2017.