Studio: Wonder Wheel Productions
Director: Toby Poser, John Adams
Writer: Toby Poser, John Adams
Producer: Toby Poser
Stars: Toby Poser, Zelda Adams, John Adams, Shawn Wilson, Joan Poser, Inderpreet Singh Khangura, Bob Lane, Izzy Figueredo
A grieving mother and a guilty man separately confront haunting visions following the tragic death of a teenage girl.
No offense to the person who wrote its entry in the Fantasia Film Festival guide, but the copy for “The Deeper You Dig” included a single term that made me consider stepping over the movie entirely. That term was “DIY.”
There was a time when I considered any genre film fair game for critical coverage. Then I became so burned out by the awful amateur attempts clogging the direct-to-streaming market that, for the sake of saving my sanity, I finally cut all cords with the lowest levels of filmmaking in the horror world. I’m talking specifically about “Do It Yourself” movies made in backyards with a cast and crew that can be counted on one hand. When I would write about homemade horror, I’d use the phrase “friends and family production” to glibly describe a cheapo effort where inexperienced actors were just a director’s buddies, slapdash camerawork induced eyestrain, and the entire thing looked put together during random free time for the cost of an average bag of groceries.
In “The Deeper You Dig’s” case, “friends and family production” remains an accurate descriptor, but it is not worn as a slur. Toby Poser, John Adams, and their daughter Zelda Adams do almost everything on their homegrown dramatic thriller, from writing, directing, and producing to cinematography, music, and editing.
What sets them apart from the glut of aspiring upstarts producing forgettable flotsam on a shoestring? The Adams Family is actually good, very good even, at what they do. Don’t let its “DIY” nature deter you like it almost did me. Anyone interested in true get-your-hands-dirty guerrilla filmmaking ought to find “The Deeper You Dig” fascinating as an impressive indie accomplishment as well as a narrative.
Although underlying themes are not, the plot is relatively simple. Kurt is a lonely contractor whose days are spent renovating a remote house while nights are occupied by boilermakers at a bar. Ivy is a faithless former medium who now gives sham tarot readings for 50 bucks. She has a loving relationship with her goth-but-good-girl teenage daughter Echo, who’s anxious to sled in the snow at night.
Unfortunately, Echo’s outdoor excursion coincides with Kurt driving home drunk on a country road. Tragedy ensues, although not exactly as you might expect, filling one mother with grief and one man with guilt.
Kurt and Ivy’s respective roads take them down different paths of haunting visions and strange suspicions. The sudden appearance of an occult symbol drives Ivy to explore an ethereal realm existing alongside reality. While she wants to connect with her daughter, Kurt wants Echo out of his head, as the girl’s ghost demands repentance in a manner poised to drive the man mad. Kurt and Ivy then connect in a series of unusual confrontations blurring the line between life and death, which is precisely where Echo wants them to meet.
Let’s get nags out of the way, since there are fewer of those than there are points of praise. Car windows could use screens to prevent bright, snowy exteriors from bleeding lens exposure. But that’s the kind of disposable detail acceptably sacrificed by virtue of “The Deeper You Dig” being made by neophytes instead of industry veterans. Technical execution mostly maintains consistently professional quality, with exceptional winter landscapes adding visual mileage to break up sparseness in the settings.
Acting also leans a little green, though that applies more to incidental appearances. You don’t need end credits to confirm that the man playing the convenience store clerk actually is The Adams Family’s local convenience store clerk. Fortunately, side characters don’t have much more to do than make small talk while working a register or something, so their blips don’t read as real blemishes either.
The three leads aren’t immune to bites of amateurism in their performances, yet they all bloom into believable personalities in short order. When Kurt gets into skullduggery in the woods, John Adams makes sure to react to the sound of a passing car, which may have been happenstance or may have been added intentionally via foley. Either way, “The Deeper You Dig” remembers to take time so minor moments like these, along with other camera cutaways, develop a sense of realism. The movie isn’t strictly focused on moving between beats in straight lines, which is how it elevates make-believe into an intangible aesthetic you can accept as authentic.
Conversely, this means “The Deeper You Dig” requires viewers to be patient so its atmosphere can be appreciated. It’s a minimalist movie made more from mood than from fiction or spectacle. While no one will be bowled over with action, that doesn’t mean tension is absent. During its denouement, the film wanders overmuch into interpretive incoherence regarding Ivy’s visions and some symbology that can be difficult to decipher. Yet even when it wobbles, suspense stays strong enough to keep a coldly unsettling texture underneath everything.
Frankly, I don’t think I’ve seen a microbudget movie use Spartan style for psychologically suggestive storytelling this well since Mike Flanagan’s “Absentia” (review here). “The Deeper You Dig” is a little raw. It’s also a little weird. But its eerie emotional effectiveness and surprising cinematic competency have renewed my hopes that there are still gems to be discovered in that subsection of indie horror otherwise overwhelmed with DIY dreck.
Review Score: 75