A backwoods gothic that’s more successful at conjuring atmosphere than delivering a satisfactorily cohesive plot, Dig Two Graves’ hints of horror gradually disperse, revealing a fairly conventional tale of revenge and redemption that should primarily lure audiences with a provocative trailer and enticing casting.
In an effort connect the storyline with prior events transpiring in the 1940s, writer-director Hunter Adams sets the film in the rural Midwest during the mid-’70s. After the mysterious drowning death of her older brother Sean (Ben Schneider) in a flooded quarry, 13-year-old Jacqueline (Samantha Isler), known as “Jake,” tries to support her grieving parents while dealing with her sense of guilt over Sean’s untimely demise. Sherriff Waterhouse (Ted Levine), her grandfather and the local lawman, comforts Jake as best he can when she’s feeling stressed out, but seems pretty adrift himself. Jake gains renewed hope after a strange encounter with a man named Wyeth (Troy Ruptash), a bootlegger who claims he knows how to bring Sean back to life, if Jake will agree to find someone “to take his place.”
Hardly as ominous as it sounds.
Distracted by Wyeth’s apparent supernatural abilities and rather unclear on the gravity of her commitment, Jake follows his instructions when Wyeth tells her to befriend her classmate Willie (Gabe Caine) in order to fulfill her promise. As she sets her plan in motion, Jake begins to discover more about Wyeth and his cohorts, who manufacture moonshine in a ramshackle shack deep in the woods. At the same time, tensions increase between Waterhouse and Proctor (Danny Goldring), Willie’s dad and the former sheriff, over what Jake assumes to be some past falling out. As the extent of their animosity becomes clear, however, she realizes that she’s been caught up in some obscure power play between Wyeth and the lawmen, not quite suspecting how much danger she may really be in.
Adams intersperses the main plot with flashbacks to traumatic events a generation earlier, when Waterhouse and Proctor committed unforgivable crimes as crooked cops enforcing their own brand of justice. Their former transgressions haven’t been forgotten however, leading to cycle of retribution that’s ensnared Jake with the potential to destroy her family.
As much a coming-of-age tale as it is a cautionary one, Adams’ feature does a credible job building suspense, but never really delivers on the horror scares that early scenes telegraph. In fact, the initial hints of supernatural forces at work are undercut by later plot developments, compromising the film’s carefully cultivated tone.
Paired with charismatic veteran Levine as the errant sheriff, young Isler makes a plucky heroine, her fair, freckled face conveying the growing trepidation that she dare not voice aloud. Adams and DP Eric Maddison are adept at crafting the overall visual aesthetic, relying on ominously woodsy outdoor locations and a seemingly unlimited variety of creepy wood-frame buildings to enhance the action.
Distributor: Area 23A
Production companies: DTG Productions, Schneider Brothers Entertainment
Cast: Samantha Isler, Ted Levine, Troy Ruptash, Danny Goldring, Anne Sonneville, Rachael Drummond, Ben Schneider, Gabe Caine
Director: Hunter Adams
Screenwriters: Hunter Adams, Jeremy Phillips
Producers: PJ Fishwick, Claire Connelly, Hunter Adams
Executive producers: Larry Fessenden, Neal Schneider, Steven Beer, Drew Adams, Kim Sherrell
Director of photography: Eric Maddison
Production designer: Merje Veski
Costume designer: Lizzie Cook
Editor: Scott D. Hanson
Music: Brian Deming, Ryan Kattner, Joseph Plummer
Casting director: Matt Miller