In a small, dark bar, in a small New York hamlet, Kurt (John Adams) eats a grubby little dinner and has a few too many beers. It is snowing and pitch-black when he drives home. He swerves to miss a few deer, running across the road and then hears a bump bump. He’s hit something. That something turns out to be 14-year-old Echo (Zelda Adams), who was out sledding. Kurt is visually upset, he’s not a psychopath after all, but he’s also been around. He knows the score. If he calls the cops, they’ll give him a drunk test and he’ll wind up in prison. He seems the kind of guy who has already spent a few days behind bars. He scoops the girl and her sled up and puts them into the back of his truck.
Back at his decrepit, ancient-looking house that he plans to fix up and swap, he tries to bury the girl. But the ground is too hard from the freezing cold. He places her in an old bathtub in hopes the morning sun will thaw things out. The sun comes and brings with it questions. Echo’s mother Ivy (Toby Poser), who happens to live in the house next door, comes knocking. She asks Kurt if he’s seen Echo. He says no but acts strangely about it. She mentions she used to party in that old house as it has been unoccupied for a long time. She hears a noise and shouts, “Echo,” as if she suspects her daughter may be tied up somewhere in the house. Later, the cops drop by and notice Kurt is acting weird. But they drop it figuring Echo has just run away.
The Deeper You Dig is listed as an “Adams Family Film”. You might have noticed that two of its stars have that same last name. John and Zelda Adams are a father/daughter team who also co-wrote and co-directed this film. Toby Poser is John’s wife and Zelda’s mother. The three have made several films together. There’s also another daughter, Lulu, who usually is involved in their filmmaking but sat this one out to attend college. I’ve not seen their other films yet, but if they are anything like this one, then I’m going to become a fan.
For the first part of the film, it acts as a really good thriller. We know who did the crime but we wonder if Kurt will be caught. As the film moves on, it becomes more of psychological horror and then morphs into the supernatural. It works best when it stays in thriller territory, though there are plenty of effective scares.
Ivy continues to slip into Kurt’s life, showing up in town at the convenient store Kurt buys his beer from or walking down the road as Kurt passes in his truck. Her presense is a continual reminder of what he’s done. He begins seeing visions of Echo in his house. Is he hallucinating or is she a ghost? Ivy was once a psychic, but she lost her power years ago and has been grifting ever since. But with Echo gone, she begins seeing visions as well. She knows her daughter is dead and desires vengeance.
The two of them form something of a friendship. She comes by his place to see how the remodel is doing. He comes by hers with pumpkins and she shares her hot cocoa. All the while, Echo haunts them both. His visions or hauntings become more horrific and he’s constantly digging up her body to try and bury it deeper. The ending is pretty straightforward horror stuff, but it is effective.
Made on a shoestring budget, The Deeper You Dig is one of the most effective horror films I’ve seen in the last few years. It is a little too reliant on some horror cliches (there are far too many quick cuts of people covered in blood) and the supernatural bits feel a bit trite, but mostly it really worked for me. There are some really nice directing choices and some really effective use of lighting. The setting is isolating and at times terrifying. It is a film made by a family who clearly love horror and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next.
Arrow Video presents The Deeper You Dig with a 1080p transfer and the original stereo soundtrack. Extras include an audio commentary from Toby Poser and John Adams, an interview with the three stars/filmmakers, and a video essay from critic Anton Bitel. There’s also an interview with the filmmakers from Frightfest TV, a special effects breakdown, music videos, and the usual trailers and an image gallery.
Also included is The Hatred, a pretty good short film starring Zelda and Lulu Adams about a young girl seeking vengeance on the Confederate soldiers who slaughtered her family.