Studio: Area 23a
Director: Hunter Adams
Writer: Hunter Adams, Jeremy Phillips
Producer: P.J. Fishwick, Claire Connelly, Hunter Adams
Stars: Samantha Isler, Ted Levine, Troy Ruptash, Danny Goldring, Bradley Grant Smith, Ben Schneider, Gabriel Cain, Dean Evans, Mark Lancaster, Sauda Namir, Ann Sonneville, Kara Zediker
A haunting family history comes to light when a young girl receives a supernatural proposition to bring her brother back from the dead.
Jacqueline “Jake” Mather hasn’t been the same since her idolized brother Sean died. The inseparable siblings were supposed to jump together into the water below the high quarry ledge, but Jake chickened out at the moment of truth and broke their handhold. Sean dove, and he never came back up. Now all Jake has to remember her brother is the watch he left behind and the scar a rock gave her when she ran for her family’s help.
Jake receives an unlikely opportunity to make her spirit whole again when mysterious local gypsy Wyeth Buchta claims he can bring Sean back, provided Jake is willing to sacrifice another life in exchange for her brother’s. While the unexpected offer weighs heavily on Jake’s conscience, her grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse is forced to confront a skeleton in his own closet. Because there is a 30-year-old connection between Jake’s family and the gypsies that makes Wyeth’s supernatural proposition potentially more sinister.
Part moody Stephen King-style thriller and part brooding family drama, “Dig Two Graves” takes place in two timelines. One thread moves forward while the other winds back, with neither sprinting faster than feels natural for the mystery to unfold. The alternating eras interestingly construct characters in reverse, gradually fleshing flashback details that study who people truly become when dark desires drive actions.
And details are definitely the movie’s strongest suit. What makes “Dig Two Graves” an astonishing accomplishment for a low-budget indie is the exceptional production value it achieves from deceptively simple shots, props, sounds, and setpieces likely to go unnoticed by many.
Among the ways pennies are stretched into copper wire on a slim budget, “Dig Two Graves” employs an 18-person special effects fire team, an underwater camera unit, and makes its lead actress begin each day in the makeup chair to keep a cut on her forehead when it could just as easily take shortcuts without anyone batting a lash. This is an impressive independent production unafraid to put in the effort it takes to make each element click, and that commitment is front and center onscreen.
Cameras are mounted on bikes for brief establishing shots. When a bar of soap hits a kid in the head, it sounds like the thunk of a bar of soap, not a generic Foley sound pulled carelessly from an audio library. Dollar bills are period to both 1947 and 1977. The movie doesn’t have to show something like currency at all, but this kind of casually careful attention to every detail makes the setting that much more immersive.
Coldly captivating, but burning beautifully with an authentic Midwestern feel, cinematography is cleverly plotted without being unnecessarily creative. The camera here is more than a tool simply recording action, and this is not basic master, two-shot, close-up coverage. “Dig Two Graves” is thought through as a cinematic story, where the medium subtly enhances the telling in virtually every sequence.
Ted Levine is terrific as a grumpy old sheriff bearing a regretful cross muted by alcoholism and masked by grandfatherly affection. Young Samantha Isler never overplays Jake’s angst, anger, or ennui. And Troy Ruptash channels a mix of Peter Stormare and Giovanni Ribisi that keeps Wyeth teetering towards weirdly engaging when he could have been bizarrely buffoonish with his top hat and gypsy drawl.
Judged on its own merits, it is difficult to deduct points for anything “Dig Two Graves” can be perceived as doing wrong. One has to look hard to find fault, and even then it is only discovered in places where it doesn’t matter much to the tale being told. Jake’s relationship with her father is nearly nonexistent. There is no clear indication of how Wyeth and his brothers were reared into adulthood following their childhood tragedy. And viewers of a certain age have the distracting snicker of trying not to see the Buchta brood as some weirdo reincarnation of Larry, Daryl, and Daryl.
Yet what remains critically important to the film’s success is that its direction is decisive, the pacing makes sense, and performances are pointed. “Dig Two Graves” is a rare genre drama that strays from sentimentality to deliver a suspenseful story executed with powered precision.
Review Score: 90